Scientists confirmed this week that research involving cloned cattle shows it's possible to get higher value meat without wasteful trim fat. Their findings are through the offspring of cloned cows.
“These are not cloned animals--these are products of cloned animals,” says Dean Hawkins, Dean of Agriculture and Natural Sciences at West Texas A&M University.
The calves are the first born to two cloned animals and are the product of research at West Texas A&M University’s ranch just south of Amarillo. The project started in 2012 by cloning their first bull named Alpha. “We took a carcass off the line, and it was a prime yield grade 1 carcass," explains Canterbury. " We took a tissue cell from that carcass--from the muscle--and we cloned that animal on the prime yield grade 1 trait,” explains Canterbury."
From there, they had three heifers from that same DNA line, which is a group that they call Gamma. The calves are a product of both Delta and Gamma. Seven of their offspring were harvested last month. After a third-party USDA evaluation, one achieved the prime grade, which is something that fewer than 5% of carcasses qualify for industry wide. Three graded High Choice, and three Average Choice.
“We're selecting for a genotypic trait, instead of a phenotypic trait like a lot of cloning projects have done,” says Landon Canterbury, manager of West Texas A&M University's ranch.
That means the researchers want the animals for the quality of their meat, instead of certain genetic traits.
“We wanted to improve the quality of the beef carcass in the national, the Prime, Yield Grade 1 carcass. It happens .03% of the time in the population, so we wanted to see if we could improve that,” says Canterbury. “Just the slightest bit would help out the industry.”
“With genetics it takes many, many years to get to a product that you want with typical and traditional breeding techniques,” he adds. “We took the carcass off the line, and we're working backwards on that. So, we get the finished product that we're looking for (in a time frame that is) quicker than traditional methods.”
While carcass quality was the goal, some unexpected benefits occurred during the research process. “They’ve just been really, really healthy calves,” Canterbury says. “Their vigor at birth was outstanding, and their average daily gain has been outstanding, up near three on most of them, all through the summer,” says Canterbury.
“To be a Prime, Yield Grade 1, means they could have not really even stubbed their toe, gotten sick, or had any treatments,” says Hawkins.
Still, the hope isn’t for the meat from these calves to enter the food chain, but to make their DNA available for reproductive purposes across the entire industry.
While that still may be years in the making, the possibility is there. “If the product does nothing more than shift a greater percentage of cattle towards the choice quality grade, it's successful,” says Hawkins.
“I think it's really promising,” says Canterbury. “As producers know, when they take something to harvest or even a feedlot, they get paid at harvest for different premiums on prime, high choice or whatever they're looking for. If you can say, ’Hey, we're going to promise that more of your animals are going to grade better,’ then it will be a huge deal for the producer."