DNA tests quality of live sheep

Monday, June 06, 2011

Australian scientists are confident they can now tell the eating quality of a lamb while the animal is still alive.

In fact they are confident that such epicurean qualities can now be determined at the point of birth.

It is as simple as taking a DNA sample from a lamb and using the latest in genetic analysis - the SNP or single nucleotide polymorphisms - to determine a lamb's propensity to produce intra-muscular fat and a loin muscle with a low shear force.

Both measures, following extensive local research at Western Australia's Murdoch University and the Sheep Co-operative Research Centre (CRC), are critical indicators of a lamb's eating quality.

Last week the Sheep CRC released details of these quality traits along with four other lamb carcass traits that can be identified with DNA SNP analysis.

The other traits were for lean meat yields, carcass weight, eye muscle and fat depths.

Sheep CRC chief executive Dr James Rowe said the analyses were still in the research phase though there was already one year of on-farm testing with another season of pilot trials scheduled for this year.

While the carcass weight and eye muscle and fat depth have been measured and reported as Lambplan breeding values for several decades, Dr Rowe said the DNA analysis would improve the accuracy of the traits.

"But the beauty of the DNA analysis for the lean meat yield, intra-muscular fat and shear force traits was that they were hard-to-measure traits, which, until now, could only be assessed on a processed animal or through extensive consumer evaluation," Dr Rowe said.

He was also confident the release of the carcass traits would be timely to prevent the prime lamb industry damaging its eating quality reputation through any pre-occupation with growth rates and lean meat yield.

Validation of the DNA analysis for carcass traits is part of the Sheep CRC seven-year Information Nucleus program, where the progeny of research flocks of Merino, and terminal and maternal breeds have been extensively evaluated and analysed for an exhaustive array of wool, carcass, growth and animal health traits.

The release of the carcass traits last week followed the release earlier this year of several wool traits.

Dr Rowe envisaged that once the DNA SNP analysis was commercially available, stud breeders would be paying between $50-$100 for a once-off analysis of traits.

Dr Rowe said the analyses would be combined and reported with the existing sheep breeding values, currently administered by Sheep Genetics.   



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