Gene markers which influence traits like meat tenderness and
carcase quality are set to become a main stream breeding tool,
north pedigree and commercial beef farmers were told at a meeting
Extensively used in other livestock producing countries, including
the US, France and New Zealand, Merial Animal Health's
Igenity testing service brought gene markers, which identify
specific genetic traits, to the UK and the meeting in Carlisle
at the Shepherd's Inn on Wednesday (January 18) was its
first main introduction to breeders.
Held in conjunction with leading pedigree auctioneers Harrison & Hetherington
who invited both pedigree and commercial beef farmer clients
to the meeting, it was attended by around 50 people.
Igenity's head in Europe, Nigel Otter told the meeting: “Gene
markers are becoming a main stream breeding tool in the UK.
“They are being used extensively in other countries - for
example France has a major programme evaluating the genes involved
in meat eating quality. In the States, where it is also widely
used, sale catalogue entries are backed up by gene markers.”
Mr Otter said while until now beef breeders had only been able
to select for traits such as growth rates and leaner, more muscled
carcases, now this new science enabled them to be able to breed
specifically for the eating quality of the animal's carcase.
The naturally occurring protein calpain influences meat tenderness
post-mortem by weakening muscle fibres and the test identifies
variations in animals' calpain genotype, rated on a scale
of one to five on their ability to produce tender meat.
“Meat tenderness excites the supermarkets and it is the
number one priority for beef. They want to improve the quality
of the eating experience and they want this quality to be much
more reliable and consistent. In this way gene markers for beef
will have influence throughout the food chain, particularly amid
competition from tender meats such as chicken,” said Mr
The gene marker for carcase quality identifies the protein leptin
which influences feed intake and fat deposition, and it further
enhance information already available on levels of fat deposits,
carcase weight and rib eye size.
Knowing an animal's leptin genotype allows breeders to
make more informed management decisions regarding breeding, nutrition
Much of the work in the field of gene markers for beef cattle
has been carried out in the US, in particular at one of the main
beef reference establishments in the world, the Meat Animal Research
Centre in Nebraska.
Igenity with the National Beef Association has carried out a
study - as yet unpublished - with six UK pedigree beef
cattle societies, funded by Genesis Faraday in Edinburgh, to
look at tenderness and carcase traits.
During the last year Igenity has carried out 2,000 of the tests
in the UK which by DNA fingerprinting gives breeders access to
the genetic make-up of their cattle, allowing more objective
breeding decisions to be made.
Mr Otter said the test simply involved taking a few strands
of the animal's tail hairs. The DNA is then extracted from
the hair follicles in the laboratory and is then analysed for
the presence of gene markers.
Kits of 10 tests cost £30 per animal. The ideal would
be to test the top two thirds of both males and females in a
pedigree beef herd.
Igenity has its store set on a panel of up to 90 different gene
markers which would include meat traceability from farm to plate.
“For breeders it's going to be an important marketing
tool - for both pedigree and commercial producers. If supermarkets
and leading retailers are prepared to pay a premium for tenderness,
then there's a big incentive for breeders to use it,” said
“By selecting for superior tenderness breeders can make
very fast progress over two generations,” he added.
* Merial is a world-leading, innovation-driven animal health
company, providing a comprehensive range of products to enhance
the health, well-being and performance of a wide range of animals.
Merial employs approximately 5,000 people and operates in more
than 150 countries worldwide. Its 2004 sales were in excess of
$1.8 billion. Merial Limited is
a joint venture between Merck & Co., Inc. and sanofi-aventis.
For more information, please see www.merial.com
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