Cows genetically modified to improve flavour

Scientists in China have created genetically modified cattle designed to   produce tastier beef.

For chefs and food-lovers, the perfect steak has long been the holy grail.

Now scientists in China have joined the search, by creating genetically   modified cattle which they say are designed to produce tastier beef.

Jing Qin 1 and 2 are clones given an extra gene which has been found to   increase the amount of fat in their muscles.

When they are slaughtered, this will mean richly marbled cuts of beef – as   tender, the scientists hope, as Japan’s famous wagyu beef.

The two calves are the first successful products of three years of research,   but will have to reach maturity and be slaughtered to assess how successful   the experiment is.

Professor Ni Minhong, who led the research at Beijing University of   Agriculture’s department of advanced science and technology, said it was “a   crucial step”.

“Through this project we will be the first in the world to successfully   create transgenic cows with fatty acid binding protein,” he said.

“Unlike pork where leaner is better, a good amount of muscle fat content   is one of the key elements when it comes to characterising beef quality.

“After more research it may be possible to achieve ideal marbling of   meat in domestic cattle and provide an alternative to imported high-grade   meat.”

It is the latest of a number of attempts to improve the meat and milk from   livestock by genetically modifying the animals.

Earlier this year Chinese scientists revealed they had created cows whose milk   could be drunk by people suffering from lactose intolerance and contained   high levels of “healthy” fat found normally in fish.

Last year it also emerged that scientists from China had successfully   introduced human genes into 200 dairy cows to produce milk with similar   properties to human breast milk.

The latest work will add to debate over the ethics and safety of attempts to   genetically modified livestock, with critics of the technology raising fears   about the welfare of the animals involved and the possibility of the meat   and milk they produce causing harm to humans.

Jing Qin 1 and 2 are a local Chinese breed of cattle called Qinchuan, but have   had a gene which encourages the creation of what is called the adiposcyte   fatty acid binding protein – the protein which creates a high number of thin   streaks of fat between muscles.

The fat, which becomes marbling after the animals have been slaughtered, makes   meat tender and creates its flavour.

John Torode, the MasterChef judge and author a book called “Beef”,   said marbling is the key difference between a steak with flavour and one   without/

“The strands of fat within the muscle work like a network and when   cooked this fat melts. The melting fat soaks into the fibres of the muscles   making it more tender and moist,” he said.

“If you have a muscle that is long and lean, with little fat, it will   just be tough once cooked. Having that internal network of fat deposits in   the muscle makes all the difference then between dry, stringy meat and   sumptuous, tender meat.”

Wagyu beef has become famous around the world for its tenderness, and is the   most expensive beef available. It is often known as Kobe beef because of its   production in the area of Japan, but is now bred in Britain for sale in   British restaurants.

Allowing genetically modified cattle would cut the cost of richly marbled   beef.

Tests on the two calves have shown that they both carry the gene but it will   be some months before further tests can be conducted to find out if their   muscles are becoming enriched with fat.

The scientists say it could be several years before the new meat could be   available in shops if it is approved by the authorities.

During the research, however, a number of animals miscarried during pregnancy   while one GM calf died shortly after birth.

Professor Ni said that they needed to carry out further research to ensure the   gene is stable in successive generations of cattle and they also want to try   the gene in other varieties of beef cattle to see if how the meat differs.

He said: “We will be focusing on improving breeding rate to increase the   population of our transgenic cows. Secondly, finding the most efficient and   scientific way for feeding and testing cow’s muscle fat and proteins levels   to determine if they are best for breeding purpose. Finally, some more   experiments need to be carried out, such as hybridising our cows with   regular cows to see if the trans-gene can be passed onto the future   generations.”

The research has, however, raised concerns from animal rights campaign groups   and critics of GM technology.

Dr Helen Wallace, director of campaign group Genewatch, said: “Most   European consumers will be extremely concerned about the level of animal   suffering involved in these GM experiments.

“Traditional breeding and other techniques can be used to improve meat   quality. It is not necessary to use these technologies to make high value   products.”

 

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Categories: . General Mutations, . Genetically Modified Organisms

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