Genetic markers for growth, leanness and meat quality discovered at Iowa State University (ISU) have been made available to pork producers in the United States.

“This offers a unique opportunity to use molecular genetics to improve pigs’ growth, leanness, feed conversion and meat quality for all breeds typically seen in the United States,” says Max Rothschild, C.F. Curtis Distinguished Professor in Agriculture and director of the Center for Integrated Animal Genomics at ISU.

The Iowa State University Research Foundation has signed a licensing agreement with GeneSeek, Inc. of Lincoln, NE. The license permits GeneSeek to use the technologies as markers to identify hogs that have the potential to improve economics of hog producers operations’ and enhance pork quality for the consumer.

Those markers offer:

  • MC4R controls growth and leanness. The producer and breeder can choose the “fast” growth form of the gene, cutting three days off the time it takes a pig to reach market weight, or the “lean/efficient growth” form of the gene, reducing the pig’s backfat and the amount of feed it eats.
  • PRKAG3 controls meat composition. Producers and breeders can select for animals having a high pH, improving quality and offering better meat color.
  • CAST affects meat tenderness and quality. Producers can test and select those animals that are likely to produce more tender meat and improved meat quality.
  • HMGA1 is highly associated with backfat and lean growth. Producers can test and select animals that are likely to be leaner and produce offspring that are leaner.
    These genes are best used in combination, explains Rothschild. Use of all four would benefit overall line development for improved growth, leanness and meat quality.

A combination of MC4R and HMGA1 could be used for growth and backfat improvement only, or MC4R and HMGA1 could be used together for significant leanness in breeding stock.

Finally, PRKAG3 and CAST could be used together to improve meat quality.

Rothschild advises producers and breeders to work together to develop the best multi-gene combination for their herds.