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Aarhus University Sheds Light on Boar Taint

01 July 2013

DENMARK - Research assistant Martin Krøyer Rasmussen has received a scholarship from the Villum Foundation for a one-year postdoctoral research visit to the Montpellier 1 University in France.

Martin Krøyer Rasmussen has received a research grant for studies at the university in Montpellier, France. [Photo: Janne Hansen]

What does the liver, boar taint and luminescent cells have to do with each other? These are some of the elements that research assistant Martin Krøyer Rasmussen from Aarhus University will try to tie together during his stay at Montpellier 1 University in France.

This autumn, Dr Rasmussen will be looking over the shoulder of French experts in liver stem cell technology to learn more about their technique. In order to do this he has received a grant from the Villum Foundation. The grant covers a full year’s salary and the costs associated with the practical work at Montpellier 1 University.

Broadly speaking, his project investigates factors that affect the hepatic detoxification system. More specifically, the project is trying to achieve greater insight into the factors influencing boar taint.

"Our previous studies have shown that the boar diet interferes with the enzymes in the liver that break down toxic substances, including those that affect boar taint. It may be that detoxification of the body is gender-specific either via genes or via hormones. For example, boar taint is primarily a characteristic of male pigs, but at the molecular level we cannot explain why," said Dr Rasmussen.

Chicory can be used

His previous work has included analysis of the effect on boar taint of adding chicory to the diet. He found higher activity and liver content of the enzymes that break down the substances involved in boar taint when pigs were fed chicory.

Now the task is to ascertain how the bioactive compounds in plants such as chicory activate a number of receptor cells in the liver. These particular receptor cells regulate the so-called Cytochrome P450 system (CYP). CYP is a group of enzymes that catalyse the degradation of a wide range of organic substances, including toxins and hormones in the body.

Glowing proteins reveal activity

This is where the French expertise in liver cells comes into the picture.

"The French researchers in Montpellier are good at extracting liver cells and growing them. In fact, they are so good that what they are actually doing is returning the liver cells to patients whereby patients achieve improved liver function and avoid having to undergo a liver transplant," said Dr Rasmussen.

The French researchers also use a technique called Gene Reporter Assay (GPR) - and it is here that the light-emitting cells play a role. The technique involves letting a reporting gene be controlled by the receptor to be analysed. The reporting gene acts as an informer for whether the receptor has been activated and, in turn, has activated the transcription of the reporting gene. It does so because the reporting gene codes for proteins that by cleavage of the right substrate make the cell luminescent.

"By mastering the technique, I can screen a number of bioactive compounds and see which genes are activated and which receptors in the liver are affected. If we find specific substances in specific plants, this can pave the way for breeding plants that can be fed to pigs to prevent boar taint. It will also increase our knowledge of the interactions between medicines and foods," said Dr  Rasmussen.

Aarhus University

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