Genetic research could produce tastier, healthier meat

Issue date: 07 May 2009


University of the West of England How can we produce pigs that provide us with healthy and yet good tasting meat?

Meat eating quality and healthiness are closely related to the amount and type of fat. During the last decade there has been extensive selection towards leaner genotypes which has resulted in reduction of not only undesirable subcutaneous fat, but also in a dramatic decrease in desirable intramuscular fat (commonly known as “marbling” fat). Intramuscular fat has the key input in meat tenderness and juiciness and a low level of intramuscular fat is associated with dry and unpalatable pork. The challenge which the pig producing industry is facing now is how to increase intramuscular fat without increasing subcutaneous fat?

A project which has recently started at the Institute of Biosensing Technology in collaboration with the Centre for Research in Biomedicine at the University of the West of England (UWE) aims to identify the genes controlling subcutaneous and intramuscular fat deposition. The end-aim of this work is to provide data which could form a basis for developing a genetic test for intramuscular fat and which could assist pig breeders in genetic selection.

The project is entitled 'Genetic control of fat partitioning in pigs' and it is funded by the Genesis Faraday BBSRC Industrial CASE Studentship award. The Genesis Faraday Partnership supports industry-relevant research in the area of genetics and genomics of farm animals and this is the first Genesis Faraday BBSRC CASE Studentship awarded to UWE. The project is undertaken by PhD student Duncan Marriott under supervision of Dr Olena Doran, Coordinator of Institute of Biosensing Technology. Duncan is a Biology graduate with an MSc in Meat Science and five years experience as a research technician at the University of Bristol's School of Clinical Veterinary Science and he has an excellent combination of skills and experience to carry out the project.

Duncan Marriott explains, “Pigs need to be leaner to produce healthy meat but to carry sufficient intramuscular fat to maintain good eating quality. The project will be conducted on a number of commercial pig breeds, which differ in intramuscular fat content. My challenge is to identify the genes controlling both the intramuscular and subcutaneous fat content in different breeds.”

Olena Doran adds, “Pork is one of the most consumed meats in Europe and producers are keenly seeking to find ways of producing meat containing high levels of intramuscular fat. The fact that this work is supported by a Genesis Faraday BBSRC CASE Studentship award with a major animal health company as a partner will ensure that the results of this research will have a direct impact to the industry. Duncan will be working on this project for the next four years in close collaboration with an industrial supervisor in both academic and industrial settings. This will be valuable experience for Duncan. He will be given the opportunity to gain scientific knowledge and laboratory training in a commercial setting giving him excellent transferable skills that will benefit the project outcome and help with his future career.”

UWE Vice-Chancellor, Steve West concludes, “This project is very important for the Institute of Biosensing Technology and for UWE and it is excellent news that we have won our very first Genesis Faraday Studentship. The Genesis Faraday model that champions partnership working, very much resonates with UWE's ambitions to reach out, and make useful a contribution to the world around us.”

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