Threshold detection of boar taint chemicals using parasitic wasps

J Food Sci. 2012 Oct;77(10):S356-61. doi: 10.1111/j.1750-3841.2012.02883.x. Epub 2012 Aug 27.


Surgical castration has been long used to prevent consumers from experiencing taint in meat from male pigs, which is a large problem in the pig husbandry industry. Due to obvious animal welfare issues, the EU now wants an alternative for castration, suggesting an urgent need for novel methods of boar taint detection. As boar taint is only a problem when taint chemicals exceed a well-defined threshold, detection methods should be concentration-specific. The wasp, Microplitis croceipes' ability to learn and respond to particular concentrations of the boar taint compounds, skatole, androstenone, and indole was tested. Also tested was the wasps' ability to discriminate between known concentrations of indole, skatole, and androstenone in real boar fat samples at room temperature. Wasps were trained using associative learning by providing food-deprived wasps with sucrose-water in the presence of specific odor concentrations. Trained wasps' responses were tested to a range of concentrations of 3 compounds. Wasps showed unidirectional generalization of learned concentration responses, whereby the direction of concentration generalization was shown to be chemical-dependent. Through both positive (sucrose) and negative feeding experiences (water only) with varying compound concentrations, the wasps can also be conditioned to respond to concentrations exceeding a defined threshold, and they were successful in reporting low, medium, and high concentrations of indole, skatole, and androstenone in boar fat at room temperature. The need for threshold detection rather than simple detection of absence/presence applies to many food quality issues, including the detection of spoilage or pest damage in crops or stored foods.

Practical application: An inexpensive and reliable means of detecting boar tainted pork at slaughter to avoid tainted meat on the market and dissatisfied consumers.

MeSH terms

  • Abattoirs
  • Androsterone / analysis
  • Animals
  • Biosensing Techniques / methods*
  • Consumer Product Safety
  • Female
  • Food Contamination / prevention & control*
  • Food Quality
  • Indoles / analysis
  • Male
  • Meat / analysis*
  • Odorants / analysis
  • Orchiectomy
  • Skatole / analysis
  • Swine
  • Wasps*


  • Indoles
  • indole
  • Skatole
  • Androsterone