A gene that makes people eat more may make pigs leaner, according to research done at Iowa State University.

Iowa State animal scientists have been studying the melanocortin-4 receptor (MC4R) gene, which can cause obesity in humans. They want to determine how a naturally occurring mutation of the gene affected growth rate, backfat and feed consumption in more than 1,800 pigs from commercial genetic lines.

“Pigs with one form of the MC4R mutation ate less, grew slower and were leaner,” says Max Rothschild, Iowa State animal scientist and director of the U.S. Swine Genome Project.

Using this information, the researchers developed a genetic test to identify lines of pigs that carry the gene.

“This project is a good example of the power of comparative genomics, in which you study the genetics of one species in order to make discoveries in another,” says Rothschild. “What we learn from the genetics of other species may be as important to farm animals as they are, in this case, to humans.”