I was tickled pink to learn that scientists have succeeded in sequencing the genome of the pig.
According to a recent NPR piece, the DNA sequence comes from a single Duroc pig, one of five major breeds used in pork production. By comparing the genome of a domestic pig to that of wild ones, scientists hope to isolate and study regions of the genome that contribute to behavior and disease resistance.
One surprise thus far is that the structure and sequence of the porcine genome seem to be closely related to the human genome—similarities are much more apparent than scientists had previously suspected.
For me this information served to substantiate what I had intuited for quite some time—actually, since when I first read E. B. White’s Charlotte’s Web as a boy. Wilbur, I thought, was truly some pig. After all, he was capable of giving and receiving love through his friendship with Fern, the little girl who raised him from a runt. He learned the lesson of ultimate sacrificial love from Charlotte, the common brown literate spider who inhabited the doorway of Zuckerman’s barn; and I in turn learned these same lessons through immersing myself in the book.
In a separate essay on the death of a pig, White comments: “From the lustiness of a healthy pig a man derives a feeling of personal lustiness; the stuff that goes into the trough and is received with such enthusiasm is an earnest of some later feast of his own, and when this suddenly comes to an end and the food lies stale and untouched, souring in the sun, the pig’s imbalance becomes the man’s, vicariously, and life seems insecure, displaced, transitory.”
So you see, it isn’t surprising that pigs share similar physiological and behavioral traits with humans. Until relatively recent breakthroughs gave us genetically engineered human insulin, diabetics formerly injected themselves with porcine insulin, the closest biochemical equivalent to our own. And as is readily apparent this flu season, pigs and humans share a similar viral mutant, which is currently the cause of much consternation in the human camp, revolving around the decision of whether or not to get a pig in a poke.
Perhaps one day we will be able to tap into the pig’s brain and analyze its thoughts. If so, we might be able to glimpse how pigs view us humans—in a pig’s eye, of course.