Biomarkers to evaluate pork quality

An INRA team has identified and validated eight genes in pigs whose level of expression varies according to the sensory and technological quality of the meat, independently of breed and rearing conditions. In the future, assay of these biomarkers on a carcass could enable prediction of the final quality of this pork. 

sequence gel in pigs. © INRA, Nathalie IANNUCCELLI
Updated on 10/30/2013
Published on 10/11/2013

In pigs, as in other farmed livestock, many factors which influence meat quality have been identified, such as the animal's genotype, rearing and slaughtering conditions, and the processing of carcasses post-mortem. However, despite control of these different factors, the quality of pork still presents a high variability, and its prediction remains difficult. The efficient prediction of pork quality at the slaughterhouse would allow the orientation of carcasses and meat cuts towards appropriate processing techniques by industry and thereby optimise the economic value of the pork production chain.

For this purpose, researchers in the Joint Research Unit for the Physiology, Environment and Genetics of Animals and Livestock Systems (PEGASE), have used functional genomics techniques to study the biological processes that underlie the development of meat quality, and to identify biomarkers of pork quality. This work was carried out in the context of the European programme Q-PORKCHAINS (2007-2012), performed in collaboration with scientists from Aarhus University and the Danish Meat Research Institute (Denmark).

The researchers focused on genes that influence the physicochemical parameters which determine the sensory and technological quality of meat: ultimate pH, water losses, colour (lightness, tint), intramuscular fat content, shear force and tenderness. In order to obtain a broad range of meat qualities and a variety of gene expression profiles, the analyses were performed on muscles from local Basque breed animals  (which produce  high-quality pork products) and conventional Large White pigs pig. The animals were reared under different conditions (extensive, conventional or alternative systems) to enhance the variability of pork quality.

Firstly, the researchers studied the transcriptome - i.e. all the mRNA produced and indicative of gene activity - in thelongissimus lumborummuscle 30 minutes after slaughter. To achieve this, they developed a specific DNA chip in the laboratory (GenmascqChip 15 K). The activity of a large number of genes involved in the development of meat quality was thus highlighted,  and then correlated with several technological and sensory meat traits. The aim was to identify biomarkers whose quantification soon after slaughter would allow the prediction of subsequent meat quality. Indeed, the evaluation of meat quality is currently expensive, invasive and/or delayed, because for sensory traits it can only be performed after  meat ageing.

More than a hundred of transcript-trait associations were identified and then confirmed by the quantification of gene expression using RT-PCR, with each association explaining up to 64% of the  variability of a trait. Tested on a commercial line, 19 of these associations, including eight different genes and seven quality traits, were then validated.  Because several transcripts were associated with each trait, the scientists used multiple regressions to develop mathematical models that could explain variations in quality. However, the equations generated so far are insufficiently precise to enable the development of tools that could be used by industry.

In order to improve the predictive value of these biomarkers and to further develop control tools for pork quality, new models based on combinations of biomarkers associated with meat quality grades will be developed within  another research programme (2012 – 2015), coordinated by the IFIP (French Pork and Pig Institute) and the Ministry for Agriculture.

Contact(s)
Scientific contact(s):

  • Bénédicte LEBRET (33 2 23 48 56 47) Joint Research Unit for the Physiology, Environment and Genetics of Animals and Livestock Systems (PEGASE)
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Animal Physiology and Livestock Systems

For further information

  • Damon M., Denieul K., Vincent A., Bonhomme N., Wyszynska-Koko J., Lebret B. 2013. Associations between muscle gene expression pattern and technological and sensory meat traits highlight new biomarkers for pork quality assessment. Meat Science, 95, 744-754.doi: 10.1016/j.meatsci.2013.01.016.
  • Lebret B., Denieul K., Vincent A., Bonhomme N., Wyszynska-Koko J., Kristensen L., Young J.F., Damon M. 2013. Identification par transcriptomique de biomarqueurs de la qualité de la viande de porc. Journées de la Recherche Porcine, 45, 97-102.
  • Lebret B., Denieul K., Damon M. 2013. Muscle transcriptome profiles highlight biomarkers of pig production system and high meat quality. Proc. 59th Int. Congress Meat Sci. Technol., 18-23 August 2013, Izmir, Turkey. Pp. 33.
  • Te Pas M.F.W., Lebret B., Damon M., Thomsen B., Pierzschala M., Korwin-Kossakowska A., Li K., Kristensen L., Young J.F., Pedersen B., Oksbjerg N. 2012. Predicting meat quality with biomarkers. Fleischwirtschaft International, 27(4), 18-22.
  • Damon M., Wyszynska-Koko J., Vincent A., Hérault F., Lebret B. 2012. Comparison of muscle transcriptome between pigs with divergent meat quality phenotypes identifies genes related to muscle metabolism and structure. PLoS ONE, 7, e33763. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0033763.