Global project linking genetics to eating quality

Eric Barker, 06/09/2022

Southern multi-breed cattle feeding at University of New England’s Tullimba feedlot.

A NEW global research project is looking to make a link between specific genomic traits and eating quality, in a bid to influence genetics programs and eating quality scores.

The program is being run by researchers from Ireland, the United States and Australia – with funding from Meat & Livestock Australia, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Irish Cattle Breeding Federation (ICBF). Meat Standards Australia consumer testing protocols are being used for each country.

University of New England professor Peter McGilchrist said the overall aim was to allow producers to select for eating quality in the early stages of an animal’s life.

Dr Peter McGilchrist

“The dairy industry can pluck the DNA and see how good the milk is going to be. Beef can select for a lot of traits as well, but it is mostly related to growth and production – hopefully we can do it for eating quality one day,” Dr McGilchrest said.

“The other goal is to add a fast genomic test between slaughter day and grading day and get a genomic answer on these animals and maybe add in a genotype aspect to eating quality scores.”

The Australian end of the project has been using a mix of commercial and southern multibreed cattle, which is a program set up to test five temperate beef breeds (Angus, Hereford, Shorthorn, Charolais & Wagyu) with the Brahman breed to develop and enhance genetic predictions. (More on the southern multibreed program here)

“The ICBF and the USDA have similar herds in research environments where they do a lot of crossbreeding,” Dr McGilchrest said.

“The USDA are collaborating to give us all of their live phenotypes and genotypes and Australia is doing the consumer testing. Both countries will be able to use the data.”

Dr McGilchrest said some initial work was done by the Beef Cooperative Research Centre to create an estimated breeding value (EBV) for eating quality. He said the current five-year project was adding to the research done in earlier years.

“We have also genotyped a heap of historically eaten animals, which were consumer tested through Meat Standards Australia (MSA),” he said.

“We never had genotyped them when they were graded but we kept DNA samples from them all. That’s formed the early part of this project where we have been able to assess some of the genomic traits against MSA scores.”

More specific eating quality data on the radar

Dr Rod Polkinghorne, who is also part of the study, said the idea was to create a database which focused on more specific eating quality aspects than the marbling score.

Dr Rod Polkinghorne

“The different muscles have different eating quality attributes and there is about 70 muscles in an MSA-type prediction model,” Dr Polkinghorne said.

“For example, the striploin ages well but the tenderloin doesn’t or marbling will have a big effect on the striploin but not so much on the topside.”

Dr Polkinghorne said the early stages of the study, where they had genotyped the DNA, also showed how different each muscle was.

“The idea is that each country will looked at its own data and it will be pooled together into one dataset,” he said.

Ireland’s impressive genetics centre

Dr Polkinghorne said the group was drawing on a world class genetics database in Ireland.

“A few-years-ago the ICBF managed to get all the genetic data in the country onto one database,” Dr Polkinghorne.

“They accessed all of the data from their equivalent to NLIS, all the milk factory records, the movement records, abattoir records and a lot of health records. The data base is owned by a combination of the breed societies, the dairy companies, the artificial insemination companies and the government.

“All that data is used to produce their breeding values, because every animal in Ireland is on there.”

Dr Polkinghorne said the database used in the US provide had some of the most comprehensive data on crossbred cattle.

“They have been doing composite breeding for about 70 years, they have 37 diverse breeds involved across about 6,000 breeders on a property at Nebraska and they have the genetic data on all of those. But they don’t have much Brahman and they don’t have much dairy,” he said.

“The main use of the USDA cattle for this study is that there is a large crossover in breeds between their cattle and Australian cattle.”






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