Find genes to boost returns

GENETIC TESTING is identifying cattle that earn US beef producers a $150 (80) premium for a carcass guaranteed to be tender, using Merial”s Igenity TenderGENE test, launched in the UK at Smithfield.

This product adds to the Igenity genetic tests for dairy cattle launched in the UK this summer. The new TenderGENE allows producers working in a vertically integrated chain to produce a branded beef product that includes tenderness.

Animals are selected by identifying presence of the calpain genotype to predict tenderness. “Calpain is a naturally occurring protein which enhances meat tenderness by weakening muscle fibres during the post-mortem ageing process,” said Merial”s Jim Tate.

“Demand from US customers shows they are willing to pay a premium for guaranteed tender beef. But in a beef quality audit, poor tenderness was among the top challenges facing our industry.”

TenderGENE, which measures variation in the calpain gene, was developed by the US Dept of Agriculture. Producers simply send a sample of hair from the animal to a US lab, via Merial, for DNA testing. The results indicate whether that animal has the genetic ability to produce tender beef.

“The test has been available in the USA for three years with a good uptake by pedigree breeders who supply stock to commercial producers. The genetic marker has just been incorporated by the US Simmental Association into their estimated breeding value for tenderness.”

There is also a gene marker test, DNATRACE, which is a DNA-based identification system offering full traceability for the whole beef supply chain.

Developments with Merial”s Igentity tests for dairy cows mean it is now offering Igenity OptiYIELD DNA, which allows identification of a cow”s genetic potential for higher milk yield without harming fertility.

Dairy DNA

OptiYIELD DNA, together with traditional selection methods, can make selection and breeding decisions more precise, said Merial”s Nigel Otter.

OptiYIELD tests for a natural variation in the DGAT1 gene which has an important role in intestinal fat absorption, energy storage and milk production. It is also involved in lipoprotein assembly, adipose tissue formation and, crucial to fertility, egg production.

“Cows identified as YY genotype have increased milk and protein yield as well as improved pregnancy rates compared with yy types,” he said. The benefit is a lifetime merit advantage of $48 (25) a cow.

However, animals identified with yy genotype have greater fat kg and fat percentage. Hence, Mr Otter explained that 90% of North American Holsteins have the genotypes YY or Yy, whereas 77% of New Zealand Jerseys are yy.