Scientists claim that more tender beef is just around the corner, a move that will make the processing of beef products easier as well as providing a boon to the consumer market.
Research work carried out in Australia has identified a new DNA test for cattle carrying a tenderness gene. The claim could mean that beef producers will be able to breed animals for their ability to deliver more tender meat, under the Australian-patented technology, which is now being launched in Brisbane.
Research leading to the test was carried out by a consortium, which comprises the Cattle and Beef Quality Cooperative Research Centre, CSIRO Livestock Industries and Meat and Livestock Australia. Brisbane-based company Genetic Solutions has now won a global race to bring a DNA tenderness test to the market.
Genetic Solutions' scientific director, Dr Jay Hetzel, said the diagnostic test is now available to beef producers throughout Australia and around the world. "There is keen interest in using this tool to selectively improve the quality of beef herds in Australia as well as in the Americas and South Africa," Dr Hetzel said.
Since the technology was launched at the end of last year, the company claims that some of the biggest cattle breeding societies in Australia have expressed a distinct interest. And now many breeders are now expecting to incorporate the test into their future breeding programmes.
The new test, known as GeneSTAR Tenderness, will complement GeneSTAR Marbling, the world's first commercial DNA test which identifies animals with the desirable trait of fat distributed through the muscle. Dr Hetzel said beef consumers had clearly identified inconsistency in tenderness as a major deficiency. Research had shown that tenderness was more important than juiciness and flavour factors to their eating experience. "A major scientific effort has now delivered beef producers a simple live animal test that will help them meet customer expectations."
Both GeneSTAR tests use laboratory analysis of an animal's DNA, which can be extracted from tail hair roots.
"The tenderness link to the naturally occurring enzyme calpastatin was identified in a major study led by Dr Bill Barendse and a team from the Beef Quality CRC using more than 5000 beef carcases from seven breeds" said CSIRO Livestock Industries chief, Shaun Coffey.
Beef CRC chief executive officer Professor Bernie Bindon said the GeneSTAR Tenderness test was made possible by the investment of more than Aus$32 million (€17.7m) of Commonwealth CRC funds, producer levies, and CSIRO project funding. "Genetic improvement of tenderness has proved very difficult because the trait is hard to measure and is influenced by many pre and post slaughter environmental factors. While the GeneSTAR test accounts for only a part of the variation in tenderness, the effects are permanent and cumulative."
The test was easy to use and could be carried out at any stage on the live animal. "GeneSTAR Tenderness should have long term benefits for the beef quality of Australian herds," Professor Bindon said.
Researchers discovered two variants of the calpastatin gene - one associated with increased tenderness and one with increased toughness. Cattle are given a rating - 2-STAR, 1-STAR or 0-STAR - indicating how many copies they have of the tender form of the gene. Dr Hetzel said a bull and cow both with 2-STAR ratings will pass on the desirable traits to 100 percent of their progeny.
"The 2-STAR animals are genetically programmed to be more tender. The improvement made possible by using this technology is predicted to more than halve the number of carcasses rated unacceptably tough by consumers." Dr Hetzel said selective breeding with 2-STAR bulls would eventually eliminate 0-STAR animals from a herd. Breeders unknowingly using 0-STAR or 1-STAR bulls could be putting future herd tenderness at risk.
The presence of the tender form of the gene varies across breeds with British-type breeds recording the highest frequency and the Brahman breed the lowest.
Meat and Livestock Australia Research Program manager Dr Hutton Oddy said the tenderness technology presented a great opportunity to do something for beef consumers. "An enormous amount of work has gone into this project and it is good to see the results being commercialised in Australia."
"In particular this test presents a fantastic opportunity for the northern beef industry to genetically improve cattle for tenderness while at the same time retaining the desirable traits of tick resistance and heat tolerance," Dr Oddy said.