ISU Animal Scientists Win R and D 100 Award for Genetic Test for Pig Appetite Regulation

August 25th, 2002

AMES, Iowa — A simple laboratory test developed at Iowa State University that results in leaner pork for consumers, higher profits for producers and a positive impact on the environment has been named one of the year's best new technologies.

The PT1 gene test for pig appetite regulation earned an R and D 100 Award for its developers, Max Rothschild, distinguished professor of animal science, and graduate student Kwan Suk Kim. Rothschild also serves as coordinator of the U. S. Department of Agriculture's National Pig Genome Mapping Project.

The R and D 100 Award is shared with Sygen International, Berkeley, Calif. PIC, a Sygen company that applies genomics and biotechnology to animal breeding, has licensed the PT1 gene test from Iowa State University Research Foundation.

This is the second R and D 100 Award for Rothschild. He received the award in 1999 for a genetic testing method that helps pork producers increase the size of pig litters.

The R and D 100 Awards program, sponsored by R and D magazine and in its 40th year, honors the top 100 products of technological significance that were marketed or licensed during the previous calendar year. The Chicago Tribune has called the awards the "Oscars of applied science."

All of the 100 award winners will be honored at a banquet in Chicago in October.

The PT1 gene test is based on a naturally occurring mutation in the MC4R (melanacortin 4 receptor) gene. The favorable form of the gene is expressed as a lower appetite in the animal, which translates into less fat accumulation and a better conversion of feed consumed into lean meat.

"Incredibly, this single-point mutation accounts for a seven percent difference in the fat level over the loin in a pig and accounts for five percent less feed consumed," Rothschild said.

The PT1 gene test helps identify boars whose progeny have a lower appetite and will use less feed, grow leaner and produce less waste output, he said.

The standard method of improvement for growth rate, backfat or leanness and feed efficiency required that these traits be measured on the live animal. With the gene test, selection can be done early in life and does not require measuring animals or weighing feed.

"If the semen donor boar has two copies of the beneficial version of the gene, then each sperm cell will be carrying one, guaranteed," Rothschild said. "This is more tangible for customers who traditionally have been asked to accept an estimated breeding value based on statistics."

The use of this gene was determined from the biological role it plays in interpreting signals in the brain of mammals that tell the animal that it is hungry.

The PT1 gene test can also be used to select for animals with the higher appetite version of the gene to produce a fatter, darker pork, which is preferred in Japan and other countries.

It is used exclusively by PIC as a tool to select animals to fit pork producers' needs.

Iowa State University has received 24 R and D Awards since 1984.


Max Rothschild, Animal Science, (515) 294-6202

Teddi Barron, News Service, (515) 294-4778