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Tender Meat is All in the Genes

17 June 2008

AUSTRALIA - Scientists from the Beef CRC have proved that meat produced by cattle carrying the favourable forms of gene markers for tenderness is more tender than meat from cattle which carry unfavourable forms of the genes.

In the past, production and processing techniques have been relied upon to improve the eating quality of beef. But an experiment conducted by Dr Paul Greenwood from the New South Wales Department of Primary Industries, and his Beef CRC colleagues from across Australia, indicates the genetic make-up of animal can also lead to a better dining experience.

Dr Greenwood said the work could have massive benefits for producers of Bos indicus type cattle which are often dismissed as tough and lean when compared to Bos taurus genotypes. “What we wanted to do was to see if we could achieve a greater level of consumer acceptance of beef from Bos indicus cattle. We’ve now managed to show that selecting cattle with favourable tenderness markers is one way of doing that,” he said.

The experiment was conducted at the Glen Innes Research Station in New South Wales and the Vasse Research Station in Western Australia. It investigated two tenderness markers based on the calpain system responsible for the breakdown of the muscle during ageing.

Several groups of cattle were specifically selected for the experiment from several thousand animals that were initially tested. Some animals carried two copies of each of the two favourable markers for tenderness, others had two copies of the unfavourable markers and there were intermediate groups, each carrying one favourable and one unfavourable copy of both genes.

“Across both the NSW and WA sites, we found the cattle with no favourable copies of the markers had meat that was a full kilogram of shear force tougher than the meat from those that had two favourable copies of both markers,” Dr Greenwood said.

Shear force is a mechanical measure of the amount of force needed to cut through a cooked piece of meat. It can be likened to the amount of force that a person needs to take their first bite of a piece of steak. The lower the amount of force, the more tender the meat.

Dr Greenwood said this work could have a number of potential spin-offs. “For producers, if one of their objectives is to produce more tender meat, then they can be confident these markers will improve the tenderness of meat from their animals, this is likely to mean even more acceptable meat for consumers.”

But Dr Greenwood added it could also lead to greater efficiencies in the processing sector.

“This would need to be looked at in more detail by people within the sector. But if the aim is to produce meat of similar quality to current production systems, then carcasses that have favourable forms of the markers may not have to be aged as long as they are now to produce a similar quality product.”

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