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New gene tools to improve pig welfare and the quality of pork

The European Union's meat industry is in decline with serious socio-economic impacts. One reason for this is an inability to deliver consistently high quality meat products to the consumer. QualityPorkGENES addresses this problem by investigating pork meat quality and stress response in pigs in order to meet consumer requirements for both quality and welfare. Simultaneously, the genes associated with quality and stress will be identified using DNA micro-arrays and proteomics. These genes will then be available for use as diagnostic tools that can be used for breeding or quality assurance. Selecting the genes that best meet consumer requirements will ensure that the European industry will be able to compete more effectively. These novel detection tools will help the pork meat industry predict quality, and provide consistently high quality products with the benefits for consumer satisfaction, product sales/exports and the quality of life in the EU rural economy.

The objective of the project is to identify genes that can form the basis of a novel system for the detection and delivery of pork meat with known high quality. This will be met by achieving the following:
1) provision of muscle samples from pigs with divergent quality traits
2) biochemical, metabolic, technological, sensory and neuroendocrine characterisation of quality and stress in muscle
3) establishing the relationship between animal stress (welfare) and quality
4) preparation of mRNA, cDNA libraries and expression micro-arrays
5) characterisation of genes/gene products expressed in meat of high quality
6) analysis of associations between the quality traits and expressed genes
7) development of genes as novel quality detection systems
8) dissemination of the project information by reports, workshops, a website and scientific papers.

Progress to Date
The first part of the project provides for the collection of very detailed phenotypic data and muscle samples for RNA and protein work. By June 2003, samples will have been taken from 100 animals from each of the five different breed types chosen to represent the commonly used European breeds. Stress levels have been determined on the farm, after transport and immediately prior to slaughter using a new non-invasive method based on analysis of urine. Results are housed on a database created especially for the project and a detailed protocol was established to ensure the integrity of samples for subsequent RNA and protein analysis. The first cDNA libraries and cDNA micro-array resources have been created for analysis in years two and three.

Data on 250 pigs from the five different breed types were analysed for 116 traits representing growth, stress response, carcass composition and meat quality. Summary statistics were calculated and 'trait maps' and Principle Component Analyses developed. Most traits showed a significant breed effect. However, variation in all traits was as large within breeds, as between. Stress responses, determined by endocrine levels in plasma and urine, also differed significantly between breed. The Meishan and Duroc breeds appeared to respond differently compared to the other breed types (Landrace, Large White and Pietrain). One hundred pigs per line will eventually be collected and the variation exploited by utilising gene expression approaches in order to identify potential candidate genes associated with variation in the traits.


Scientist responsible for the project

Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge
CB1 2QP Cambridge
United Kingdom (The) - GB

Phone: +44 1865 822200
Fax: +44 1865 821157


Project ID QLRT-2000-01888
Area 5.1.1
Start date 01 September 2001
Duration (months) 36
Total cost 4 058 623 €
Total EC contribution   2 194 816 €
Status Completed
Web address of the project

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