CT scans for boars: one small step for the geneticistâ€¦
Only recently, a pig genetics company announced the
use of CT scans in the ongoing process of pig carcass quality
improvement. Enhanced 'designer' stock would allow pig producers to recoup
premium prices - and other benefits are also to be
Did you see the recent news item from the UK breeding company, JSR Genetics?
Quite a modest release as these things go, but I suggest it is of considerable
What is a CT scan? It is X-ray computer tomography. Now I'm
sure you have seen those rather frightening pictures of hospital patients being
slid into a scanning tunnel to reveal any malfunction in their brain - or not,
if they are lucky. Geneticist Grant Walling, JSR's technical director, reports
that the same CT scanning process is now being used in JSR's selection process
for breeding boars.
"But do we need to know
about boar's brains?," would be an immediate and understandable response! No, of
course not, but the same process can be used to achieve a very accurate
prediction of carcass composition.
Information is gathered from a
low-dosage X-ray beam passing through the animal's body from a variety of
angles. This registers the amount of muscle, fat and bone as different shades of
Dr Walling writes, "The improvement in prediction in carcass
muscle, fat and bone is 6.4, 5.6 and 15%
If the geneticists can
improve the former and reduce the latter two traits by these amounts from the
male contribution to the finished carcass, then this must markedly improve the
economics of the processors and retailers when pig producers supply them with
pigs obtained from such improved selection. Hopefully the pig farmer would then
recoup a premium price from supplying such 'designer' stock.
are two further benefits. "Selection by pig geneticists," says Dr Walling, "'has
traditionally focused on traits relatively easy to measure in the live animal,
for example growth rate. CT scanning goes on to differentiate muscle yield
within the different primal cuts (loin, ham, belly and
Slaughter for data collection
and in this respect, historically breeding companies have had to use carcass
dissection data with the disadvantage of needing to slaughter animals prior to
data collection. CT scanning allows this valuable information to be collected on
live animals (under anaesthetic) which can then go on to be used for
If this can be taken as one small step for the geneticist - I
guess this must be a significant leap for the whole pigmeat
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