Genetic basis of phenotypic variability
The food quality and security group has a long history in the study of genes, gene variants and molecular mechanisms responsible for the phenotypic variability of the main growth, metabolism and meat quality traits in swine and especially in the Iberian pig breed.
We employ large-scale genome analysis methods, with a structural and functional approach. Structural works include the detailed analysis of candidate genes and genomic studies (detection of QTLs, GWAS, massive genome sequencing), which allow us to identify relevant genes and specific gene variants involved in fattening, development or meat quality traits, such as the LEPR or SCD. This information represents an important advance in knowledge and provides tools to improve quality traits.
Functional studies are mainly focused on characterizing the transcriptome and evaluating the effect of different factors, such as tissue, age, genotype or phenotype. These transcriptomic studies provide results of great scientific value for the understanding of metabolic processes determining the phenotype and for the characterization of unique metabolic aspects of certain breeds or populations, such as the Iberian pig. Specifically, we have characterized genes and metabolic pathways that determine the adipogenic tendency, the ability to desaturate fatty acids in different tissues, and the tenderness and color of Iberian meat; and identified structural variants associated with the thrifty genotype and leptin resistance.
Characterization of breeds and populations
The available molecular tools allow a deep structural analysis of the genome of breeds and populations, helping in their characterization and in the study of the genetic singularity of breeds with particular ecological and phenotypic characteristics, as is the case of the Iberian pig. The data generated by SNP chip analysis and massive genome sequencing are used in phylogenetic and population studies and in applications related to product traceability. For example, these works have allowed the recent design of a very effective panel of markers for the racial diagnosis in animals and products of pure Iberian origin or crossed with Duroc, providing a very relevant and useful tool for the Iberian productive sector.
Our work also aims to evaluate the effects of genome-nutrition interactions and their functional and metabolic consequences:
These studies are focused on understanding the molecular basis of the quality of meat products, through knowledge of the genes and metabolic pathways that determine the synthesis and degradation of the different types of lipids in muscle and fat, and their regulation by diet. They deal with differential gene expression (study of the transcriptome and candidate gene expression) between tissues from animals fed with different feed composition, in relation to the content of different functional nutrients (fatty acids, carbohydrates, antioxidants, proteins), the energy level, or with the inclusion of different local by-products.
The nutritional effects are also studied in prenatal stages with the aim of deepening in the prenatal programming processes, analyzing the consequences of undernutrition and supplementation with fatty acids, amino acids or antioxidants during pregnancy, in pre and postnatal development, performance, quality, gene expression, metabolism and energy balance of the offspring.
The latest projects are addressing, with an applied approach, how the genetic variability of animals conditions their physiological and phenotypic response to a specific nutrient. That is, we study whether certain gene variants in relevant genes may be related to a better response to a nutritional intervention aimed at improving quality. The ultimate goal is the design of combined marker-assisted genetic improvement and nutrition programs to boost the maximum performance of the animals.
We assist livestock or processing companies in the Iberian pig sector for the development and optimization of breeding programs aimed at improving productive and meat quality traits. We carry out studies for the integration of molecular information in breeding programs.