Origin of Meat Traced Using Biotechnology
Good quality food is one of life's pleasures and is also essential for our health and well-being. Since it plays such a central role in our lives, consumers need to have confidence in what they eat. This is particularly applicable to meat, because of past health scares. Regulations on traceability require that foods should have a clear verifiable record from farm to fork, tracking them from production through to distribution. This challenge is now being met using the latest methods in the field of biotechnology.
Researchers have developed and validated an identity test that can be used to confirm the breed and origin of meat from farm animals. A number of specific genetic markers are used to identify individual animals; these markers enable complete meat traceability and ensure protection for consumers. Meat traceability is of major importance for consumer safety. This is particularly true in the event of an outbreak of infectious disease or the accidental contamination of animal feed.
Developing new techniques
European Union regulations concerning animal production chains are becoming increasingly stringent. Similar requirements are now in place in world markets such as the US, Canada and Japan. There is also greater focus on being able to demonstrate exactly where animals have been raised, slaughtered and sold for consumption. Despite this, reliable, rapid and cost-effective molecular tools for animal identification are not currently available, but this is set to change.
Professor Armand Sánchez and his colleagues from the Department of Animal and Food Sciences, Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona, and scientists from the company Applied Biosystems have developed a panel of 46 genetic markers. The markers are all single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), which are single sites of variation in the animal's DNA sequence. Regions of DNA variation are commonly used for identification purposes, for instance in human paternity tests and genetic fingerprinting.
These methods have traditionally relied on areas in the DNA sequence known as microsatellite markers. Although microsatellite-based genotyping requires only a handful of markers to identify an individual with very high accuracy, the technique is prohibitively expensive for genotyping livestock. However, by selecting larger numbers of suitable SNPs, SNP-based genotyping can be equally accurate for larger scale testing.
The study validated 46 SNPs, chosen from a set of 120, for identifying pigs from 5 different purebred lines that are of major commercial importance. The 46 SNPs were investigated in each DNA sample taken from hundreds of pigs, using the SNPlex Genotyping System and two 3730 DNA Analysers from Applied Biosystems. The pattern of SNPs in each pig's sample allowed the scientists to identify individual pigs and their parentage for each of the five breeds examined. The tests could also prove useful for animal breeders and farmers who wish to identify genetic markers associated with particularly desirable traits. These may include meat quality and flavour, and could be adapted for identification and traceability in other animal species, such as sheep, cows and poultry. The use of genetic markers for improving the traceability of meat will benefit not only consumers, but also the European economy by helping to boost exports.
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