Edema, a disease caused by a type of E. coli called F18, is tough on pigs so it's worth keeping out of your herd. Now, research from USDA and PIC, Franklin, Ky., may make it possible to breed pigs that are genetically resistant to the F18 E. coli strain.

"This is a natural way to breed healthier, more disease-resistant pigs. For producers, this strategy is a better alternative than increasing the use of antibiotics in animals. Vaccine and antibiotic costs cut into producers profits," says Agricultural Research Service Administrator Floyd Horn.

ARS and PIC researchers discovered that resistance and susceptibility to the F18 E. coli strain are linked to a specific gene. They validated testing methods on more than 500 pigs. According to the researchers, pigs that are edema-resistant lack internal receptors that make it impossible for the F18 strain to attach to the pig's intestinal wall.

The disease develops when the F18 strain does attach in a pig's small intestine and grows rapidly. Death rate among pigs with the edema disease is about 25 percent, according to ARS scientists.

The researchers also have another recommendation for reducing edema problems: feed weaned pigs more animal protein in place of soybean meal. They say this prevents the bacteria from taking hold in the susceptible pig.