The misuse of anabolic hormones or illegal drugs is a ubiquitous problem in animal husbandry and in food safety. The ban on growth promotants in food producing animals in the European Union is well controlled. However, application regimens that are difficult to detect persist, including newly designed anabolic drugs and complex hormone cocktails. Therefore identification of molecular endogenous biomarkers which are based on the physiological response after the illicit treatment has become a focus of detection methods. The analysis of the 'transcriptome' has been shown to have promise to discover the misuse of anabolic drugs, by indirect detection of their pharmacological action in organs or selected tissues. Various studies have measured gene expression changes after illegal drug or hormone application. So-called transcriptomic biomarkers were quantified at the mRNA and/or microRNA level by reverse transcription-quantitative polymerase chain reaction (RT-qPCR) technology or by more modern 'omics' and high throughput technologies including RNA-sequencing (RNA-Seq). With the addition of advanced bioinformatical approaches such as hierarchical clustering analysis or dynamic principal components analysis, a valid 'biomarker signature' can be established to discriminate between treated and untreated individuals. It has been shown in numerous animal and cell culture studies, that identification of treated animals is possible via our transcriptional biomarker approach. The high throughput sequencing approach is also capable of discovering new biomarker candidates and, in combination with quantitative RT-qPCR, validation and confirmation of biomarkers has been possible. These results from animal production and food safety studies demonstrate that analysis of the transcriptome has high potential as a new screening method using transcriptional 'biomarker signatures' based on the physiological response triggered by illegal substances.
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