updated 8/4/2006 8:19:41 AM ET 2006-08-04T12:19:41

A company created by a group of Iowa State University researchers wants hog producers to use ultrasound technology to identify animals that can produce tastier and juicier meat.

Biotronics Inc., created in 1998, received a grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the use of ultrasound on hogs.  The grant totaled $80,000 for the first phase of the project. A second phase, if awarded, could total $350,000.

Doyle Wilson, Biotronics president, said using ultrasound could identify the genetic trait for producing juicier and tastier pork by putting some fat back into the meat.

He said today's pork is leaner, with less marbling, or intramuscular fat, so its juiciness and flavor has decreased.  "Our idea is to use this technology to improve the taste and eating satisfaction of pork," Wilson said.

Ceci Snyder, assistant vice president of consumer marketing at the National Pork Board, said the industry is struggling with how much fat should be in pork.  "Some chefs prefer more marbling in the pork they serve," Snyder said, "but consumers shop with their eyes and they are looking at the amount of fat in the meat.  People are trying to eat healthy, and we have to have healthy options."

The pork board is conducting a study of consumer pork preferences that should be released next year, Snyder said.

Biotronics wants to sell its ultrasound system to pork processors to measure meat quality on hog carcasses, said Wilson, 62, a professor in ISU's animal science department from 1982 until he retired in 2000.  His partner, Gene Rouse, 61, was an animal scientist at ISU from 1971 to 2003.

The ultrasound technology that Biotronics is adapting for swine is similar to technology used to show expectant parents an image of their unborn child.

By detecting which swine have bigger, more marbled loins, swine breeders can select for that genetic trait.  "You have to find those traits and breed for it," Wilson said.

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