PhD in Genetic Determination of Aggressive Behaviour in Adult Female Pigs

This PhD project will explore the genetic determination of aggressive behaviour in adult female pigs (sows). Sows express aggression towards humans, piglets and other sows. Aggression risks human injury, reduces the welfare of recipient animals and likely reflects poor welfare of the aggressive sow herself.

Globally, modern genotypes of sows are becoming increasingly aggressive, especially towards humans. Aggressive behaviour by sows has been poorly studied. Selective breeding can lead to cumulative and permanent improvements in behaviour and there is a pressing need to quantify the inter-relationships between sow aggressive behaviour performed in different contexts and estimate the genetic basis to these behaviours. We also seek to confirm evidence that less aggressive sows produce more viable piglets as this would deliver further welfare, economic and sustainability benefits from reducing sow aggression.

The project will partner with SUISAG, the Swiss national pig breeding organisation. SUISAG wishes to maintain and improve Switzerland’s high standards of pig welfare by creating a selection strategy to reduce and optimise sow aggressive behaviour across contexts, improving farmer safety and pig welfare. We aim to (1) develop validated methods to record sow aggression and estimate the associated heritability; (2) quantify the genetic correlations between different aggressive behaviour traits, and hence how improving one form of aggression will impact others; and (3) quantify the impacts of reducing aggression on reproductive and piglet welfare traits.

The student will be registered at the University of Edinburgh, based at Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC; Edinburgh, UK) and undertake two placements of 3-9 months duration each with SUISAG in Switzerland with desk-based and on-farm elements.

This multidisciplinary animal science project combines animal behaviour, welfare, quantitative genetic analysis and applied animal breeding. The supervisory team brings the necessary expertise in each of these fields and will support the student in the development of academic skills within each discipline. The combination of academic training in breeding applied to behaviour and welfare and exposure to a progressive breeding company, is expected to be highly attractive to future employers.

Funding Notes
This 4 year PhD project is part of a competition funded by EASTBIO BBSRC Doctoral Training Partnership. This opportunity is open to UK and International students and provides funding to cover stipend and UK level tuition (limited funding is available to provide international tuition fees).

Salary: Stipend (amount not specified) and UK level tuition fees.

Closing date: 16/12/2021

Further information can be found here.