These markers have now been converted into easily used tests that enable meat producers to identify the best beasts in quickly improve their herds.
A team of CSIRO livestock industry scientists led by molecular geneticists Dr Bill Barendse took 18 months to identify the feed efficiency markers. The work was a collaboration involving the Cooperative Research Centre for Cattle and Beef Quality, Meat and Livestock Australia and commercial partner Genetic Solutions.
Brisbane-based Genetic Solutions has commercialised the four independently acting DNA markers into a test for recognising the crucial production trait of converting feed into saleable meat.
GeneSTAR Feed Efficiency 4 will be marketed by Genetic Solutions, the Brisbane company which has introduced DNA technology as a herd improvement tool to cattle producers around Australia and across the world.
Genetic Solutions managing director Dr Gerard Davis said the new markers isolated by CSIRO scientists would be hugely significant.
“Being able to identify animals which will deliver superior performance before they go onto a feeding regime will be a real profit driver for the beef industry – especially the lot feeding sector,” Dr Davis said.
The team scanned the whole bovine genome in their search for markers influencing feed efficiency before narrowing down to the four that comprise the new test. Further work is underway, including in the new Cooperative Research Centre for Beef Genetic Technologies, to identify further markers for this important trait.
The feed efficiency markers underwent rigorous validation prior to commercial release. They were thoroughly performance tested using data from almost 1500 cattle across seven major beef breeds. They join two other sets of four genetic markers – for tenderness and marbling – that Genetic Solutions has developed into tests. The tests are simple kits used to secure a sample of animal hair for DNA analysis.
The beef feed efficiency test was launched at the Australian Lot Feeders Association conference on the Gold Coast in October
Genetic Solutions is also a leader in DNA animal identification and tracking of meat at every stage of the production and distribution chains.
“We now have available 12 markers influencing three key production traits — beef feed conversion, marbling and tenderness which will be packaged together,” Dr Davis said.
“There is nothing like this available anywhere else in the world. The future of beef DNA technology has arrived and it’s here in Australia.”
Dr Barendse said feed conversion efficiency was a complex trait with overall performance influenced by a number of factors including the animal’s metabolism, growth rate, body mass and appetite. “By coming up with a number of markers relating to feed efficiency, the result will be very meaningful for livestock producers.”
“The ability to extract the maximum amount of meat from a kilo of feed is a significant profit driver for the beef industry,” he said.
Although the measurements for feed efficiency were taken with feedlot animals, he said it made no difference whether the cattle were fed grain or were simply grazing grass.
“Although what they’re taking is more concentrated, there is no difference between grain fed and grass fed – because what we’re looking at is the metabolic rate. It’s the size of the engine -how efficiently they are converting their food,” he said.
Australia’s innovative livestock genome R & D is already being recognised internationally. Genetic Solutions has signed an agreement with US-based Bovigen Solutions to manufacture and market its GeneSTAR technology throughout North and South America.
Bovigen will initially focus on the US and Canadian beef industries, and then extend to emerging beef giants Brazil, Argentina and Uruguay – representing over 400 million cattle. Thousands of cattle from ten countries have already been GeneSTAR tested and revenues from tests to date exceed $US2 million.
The Australian company will focus on extending its reach through the Asia-Pacific area and into Europe, and on developing new products.
Holding the DNA test kit is Jason Shearer-Smith (2nd from left) of Smithfield Feedlot, Proston, Qld, with Chris Prideaux, CSIRO Livestock Industries Acting Chief, and Jason Strong, Genetic Solutions Marketing Manager.
Limousins for tenderness
A strong profile of tender beef genes is giving leading Limousin stud breeders Kel and Inger Sorensen a marketing edge.
The couple operate Tanholm Limousins, the biggest French Pure bloodline stud in Australia at Clifton on the Darling Downs in Southern Queensland. They have been breeding Limousins for 30 years, first in their native Denmark and in Australia since 1991.
The Sorensons were early adopters of genetic testing, and Genetic Solutions’ GeneSTAR technology has been used extensively since the world-first live animal tests were developed by the Brisbane company three years ago.
“Stud cattle breeders need to be progressive and adopt technology which is going to be good for the future of our industry,” Kel Sorensen said.
“We’ve been advertising our GeneSTAR tenderness results and buyers are now starting to look for this objective information when selecting bulls.”
Semen from a leading sire, HML Garder, has had a big influence on improving their herd. Sorensen had DNA from a straw tested, and it produced an outstanding seven star rating for marbling and tenderness.
“Garder tested the maximum score for tenderness, but the high marbling score was a surprise bonus as the Limousin breed is more noted for its lean beef production,” he said.
“I think we are just at the beginning with this technology and it will come into widespread use.”
Tanholm stud principal Kel Sorensen with a young Limousin bull which has a 3 Star rating for tenderness.