Genetic Traits Identified in Pigs for Tastiest Meat

by 5m Editor
21 October 2011, at 10:28am

IRELAND - Irish researchers have identified genetic traits in pigs that can be used to ensure the tastiest, healthiest pig meat is delivered to consumers.

The NUIG, Teagasc and UCD researchers have developed advanced molecular techniques that link specific pig genes/proteins with meat quality traits such as drip loss, tenderness and intramuscular fat. If potential production and Irish pig herd quality gains are achieved, this research could lead to a significant boost for the Irish pig meat industry.

There is considerable interest from pig breeders and meat processors in the findings, which could be of huge benefit in the selection of the optimum animals for meat production and, ultimately, ensuring the best tasting meats reach the market.

Dr Grace Davey, who led NUIG’s molecular research team and was overall coordinator of the project, said: "The potential is for a blood test early in the animal’s life to identify whether or not it has the traits that will lead to higher meat quality. Over the years, there has been a lot of selection based on the leanest possible breeds but that can have a negative impact on meat quality. When your selection is focused on leanness, you tend to reduce intramuscular fat and you may consequently lose some of the taste qualities the consumer is seeking."

According to Irish, the joint research project looked at a total of 95 animals, involving Pietrain, Duroc and Large White breeds. The breeds were selected in discussion with producers and processors to ensure maximum benefit could be obtained by the Irish pig industry.

To answer traditional consumer complaints of pork being a "dry" meat, they also looked at the protein biomarkers which delivered the least drip loss in production, thus maximising juiciness and tenderness in the meat.

Teagasc Ashtown’s Dr Ruth Hamill said: "The ability of the meat to retain water is important both in terms of yield and for consumer satisfaction. Our panel of protein markers permits discrimination between different drip loss levels which has potential to be developed into a test that could be used in a commercial setting.

"In terms of fat content consumers have a contradictory approach to pig meat.

"At the purchase point and from a health point of view, they want it to be visually lean.

"But in eating it, they want it to be tasty, which means a certain amount of marbling or intramuscular fat because fat is important for flavour.

"Tenderness of the pig meat is also an important trait for consumers.

"We have identified genes and proteins linked to all these traits and specific markers in the higher quality animals, which the industry and pig breeders can take into account with other facets they use in making breeding selection choices."

Detailed meat quality measurements were performed on samples from each animal (pH, colour, drip loss, tenderness, [shear force], fatty acid profile, etc). Samples were taken for DNA, RNA and proteomic analysis to accurately represent the state of muscle tissue at the time of slaughter.

Together with Professor Torres Sweeney’s research team in UCD, the NUIG and Teagasc researchers shortlisted a panel of the most interesting candidate genes, which were sequenced to discover new genetic variation which may be influencing quality. This led to the identification of nearly 200 novel single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs) present in the Irish pig herd.

The most promising 85 of these SNPs were tested for association with meat quality traits in larger purebred populations and many novel associations were found between these SNPs and a variety of meat quality traits.