Assessment of genetic markers for the improvement of beef quality and consistency
The overall aim of this thesis was to investigate the genetic control of beef quality in a commercial population of Aberdeen Angus-sired cattle with a view to trait improvement. The population studied included 500 Angus-cross animals, all with purebred Aberdeen Angus sires, from a selection of farms throughout Scotland. A number of carcass-related weight traits and taste panel assessed sensory traits were measured on these animals. A population of 265 Charolais cross cattle (all with purebred sires) was then used to explore the extrapolation of results across breeds. The first aim of this thesis was to investigate heritabilities for important carcass and meat quality traits and to assess the quality of a number of taste-panel derived meat quality traits by calculating three consistency statistics. Consistency statistics (parameter range 0 to 1) for the taste panel traits were moderately high, particularly for panel member consistency and reproducibility, with values ranging from 0.48 to 0.81 and 0.43 to 0.73, respectively. Estimated heritabilities were low for most of the sensory taste-panel-evaluated traits, where the maximum value was 0.16 for overall liking, but were higher for carcass traits where carcass weight heritability was 0.7. To perform these analyses it was first necessary to confirm paternity using a number of genetic markers. Therefore, a comparison of the power of both microsatellite and SNP markers for paternity exclusion was carried out to determine the more effective method. Results indicated that approximately three times as many SNP markers than microsatellite markers were required for parentage exclusion, and a panel of 15 microsatellite markers was used to assign paternity before subsequent data analysis was carried out. The remaining aims of this thesis centred on exploring genetic markers for carcass and meat quality. Firstly, the Angus animals were genotyped for the del11 myostatin mutation which was found to be segregating at a relatively low frequency (0.04) and was shown to be associated with a 17.4 kg increase in carcass weight (P < 0.05) in the heterozygous animals when compared to the homozygous wild-type animals. By analysing the haplotype associated with the mutant allele, it was determined that there have been at least two separate introductions of the mutant allele into the Aberdeen Angus breed. A number of SNPs were also tested for their effects on the carcass and meat quality traits in the Angus animals. The SNPs fell into two groups: eight that have been incorporated into commercially available tests and a further 28 from alternative candidate genes that have effects in different breeds and species. In total, 17 SNPs significantly affected at least one of the traits measured. Of these significant associations, a number have been seen previously, such as the association between calpain and tenderness (P = 0.01) and growth hormone and eye muscle area (P = 0.05), and some of which were novel, such as the association between growth hormone receptor and steak odour (P = 0.02) and corticotrophin releasing hormone and gristle distance from fat (P = 0.004). A further six SNPs, identified by resequencing of the malic enzyme 1 (ME1) and small heterodimer partner (SHP) genes, were tested for their effects on the traits measured in this thesis. Five of the SNPs, including one which caused a non-synonymous amino acid change, had a significant effect on at least one of the traits tested including fat class (P = 0.002), eye muscle area (P = 0.01), sirloin weight before maturation (P = 0.03), sirloin steak tail length (P = 0.004) and juiciness (P = 0.004) where the effect sizes were 1.79 units, 565 mm2, 0.36 kg, 17.12 mm and 0.23 taste panel units, respectively. To assess the effect of the genotyped SNPs on intramuscular fat (IMF), a simple method of visible IMF quantification in the sirloin steak was developed using digital photographs and an image analysis program. Results showed that two SNPs in the calpain gene, known to be linked with an increase in meat tenderness, were associated with an increase in visible IMF% and the del11 mutation was associated with a reduction in visible IMF%. The heritabilities, SNP association validations and novel SNP-trait associations identified in this thesis provide tools for use in breeding programs, possibly via marker assisted selection to improve meat quality traits. However, the results seem breed-specific, as most of the significant effects were not replicated in the Charolais population.