Meat is an important source of proteins, fatty acids and other nutrients in a human diet. However there is evidence to suggest that the global increase in meat consumption is linked to an increase in major diseases such as cancer. This is largely related to a high consumption of total fat and undesirable saturated fatty acids present in meat. High consumption of total and saturated fatty acids has also been demonstrated to be positively related to the development of coronary heart diseases, diabetes and obesity.
Scientists from the University of the West of England (UWE Bristol) are actively working with international partners in China, Portugal, Spain and others towards making meat healthier via genetic selection and manipulation of animal diets, as well as developing novel cutting edge tools (bio-sensors) for rapid and cost-effective analysis of meat quality traits.
“There is bad fat and good fat in the meat”, says Professor Olena Doran, Director of Centre for Research in Bioscience at UWE Bristol, “Meats containing large amounts of saturated fatty acids are not good for health. However, unsaturated fatty acids are known to have a number of health benefits. Furthermore, consumers are interested in seeing meat with less subcutaneous fat, but with sufficient level of intramuscular fat which gives the meat tenderness and juiciness.
“We are working with international partners on improving fat content of the meat and making the fat healthier via the development of biomarkers for desirable fatty acid composition and modification of animal diet. Our research is also about developing technology that can effectively and rapidly test nutritional quality and safety of meat.
“For the past few years we have been working on a project supported by the UK Research Council , BBSRC , Biosciences Knowledge Transfer Partnership and an industrial partner that will provide data to form a basis for developing a genetic test for intramuscular fat to assist pig breeders in genetic selection.”
To investigate the effect of animal diet on fat content, the Centre for Research in Biosciences at UWE Bristol has been working in collaboration with the Technical University of Lisbon Portugal (supported by British Council and Portuguese Government) and the University of Lleida , Catalonia, Spain to look at interaction between diets and breeds using not only commercial European pig breeds, but also specific Portuguese and Spanish breeds, such as Iberian, which are used for production of high quality dry cured ham.
Furthermore, in collaboration with colleagues from Food Research institute IRTA in Catalonia , and China Academy of Agricultural Sciences , the researcher team has been developing novel technologies for food quality analysis. The collaboration with China is a part of the BBSRC UK/China partnership on novel technologies that recently saw a co-organised international conference in Beijing in September 2012, where the researchers discussed the latest achievement in both fundamental research on food quality and technology development.
The particular emphasis was on such bio-sensing technologies developed at UWE Bristol as electrochemical bio-sensors, magnetic immuno test 3D vision technology, DNA and protein biomarkers and bioluminescence bacteria based sensors.
The colleagues from China presented their research on the development of analytical techniques for agro-products, new methods for detection of veterinary drugs, microbial toxins and food borne pathogens, presented multi-contaminants screening and other techniques. New links between UK and Chinese academia and industry has initiated discussion about long-term research and educational programmes.