November 2015

Research and Development

Research Examines Factors Affecting Fat Tissue in Cattle

Dr. Guan (front, second from left) and her research team

For cattle producers, there is value in understanding how fat is deposited in tissues. It contributes to marbling, which improves carcass quality and producer returns, while improving meat tenderness and eating quality for the consumer. On the other hand, it costs a lot more in cattle feed to put on fat than lean tissue, so the returns on investment need to be there for the producer to achieve optimal marbling levels.

A recent initiative, led by the University of Alberta’s Dr. Leluo Guan, tested cattle of varying ages and fed different diets to identify regulatory mechanisms that influence bovine fat tissue metabolism.

“There is a lot to learn in this area, with many underlying benefits,” said Dr. Guan. “By knowing how fat tissue is regulated through both genetic and environmental means, we can help enhance genetic tools and practices for cattle selection. It also provides a gateway to better understand production efficiency.”

Dr. Guan and her team focused on understanding the role of micro RNAs (miRNAs) in controlling steak fat content. miRNAs are short strands of the genetic material RNA that function as gene regulators in the cell. In animals, miRNAs inhibit protein translation through targeting messenger RNA (mRNA), which in turn affects the production of proteins in the cell. They were able to identify which miRNAs and intracellular proteins affected fat development. They also found that certain miRNAs were impacted by factors like fat tissue type, diet and age. By continuing to explore these relationships, industry can better select animals to produce optimal marbling and fat content during various stages of beef production.

Gordon Cove, President and CEO of the Alberta Livestock and Meat Agency (ALMA), sees this research as important work in furthering industry goals. “Marbling is an important aspect of beef grading and what feedlots get paid for their cattle,” he said. “Strengthening industry awareness of how fat is deposited in cattle can give producers tools to minimize production costs while optimizing production practices to provide a better eating experience for the consumer.”

Dr. Guan and her team would like to thank ALMA and Alberta Innovates Bio Solutions for their support in this project. For more information, please contact Dr. Leluo Guan directly.