Australian scientists identify genetic markers for improving lamb meat quality

Posted by AFN Staff Writers on 17th January 2012

Australian scientists say they have identified new genetic markers that will allow Australian producers to increase the lean meat yield and productivity of their sheep.

The research, undertaken by the Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) in conjunction with Meat and Livestock Australia (MLA), will provide sheep breeders with the ability to use DNA testing early in an animal’s life to identify a wide range of traits, including meat quality.

The Sheep CRC research, led by the Victorian Department of Primary Industries senior research scientist Dr Matt McDonagh, investigated the calpain/calpistatin genes, which control natural tenderisation of meat as it ages in lamb, as well as other livestock species.

Dr McDonagh said, “Many gene variants were discovered and three strongly influenced tenderness. These three gene variants exist in a tender and tough format and when summed together explain about 0.6kg of shear force tenderness. Moreover the shear force scores correlate with the true consumer eating quality scores.

“Based on the distribution of these gene variants, there is good potential to improve meat tenderness within the Australian lamb industry,” he said.

However, the full genetic variation in eating quality is more than the tenderness gene markers – it is also strongly related to intramuscular fat and lean meat yield, for which the Sheep CRC says it has already identified new research breeding values.

Together, these and other new gene markers will eventually form part of the genomic assisted Australian Sheep Breeding Values (ASBVs) for eating quality under development by the Sheep CRC.

Dr McDonagh said, “These values will assist producers in predicting the performance of rams and ewes in influencing the eating quality and lean meat yield of their progeny.

“The breeding values will then be used to develop a new cuts based Meat Standards Australia system for lamb,” he said.

Operating as part of the Federal Department of Innovation Industry Science and Research’s CRC program, the Sheep CRC is a collaboration of industry, government and the commercial sector.