Scientists in the United States have successfully cloned cattle from a beef carcass, in an attempt to replicate Prime, Yield Grade 1 meat.
The endeavour began when West Texas A&M University (WTAM) scientist Ty Lawrence saw two carcasses
, rare for their level of quality, going through a packing plant in close succession.
Yield Grade 1 meat
in the United States is just as the name suggests – high yielding. The carcass has only a thin layer of external fat over the loin and rib, outside of the round and over the chuck, though it has slight deposits of fat in organ regions.
Prime beef is usually from younger, well-fed animals with abundant marbling.
There are 20 possible combinations of quality and yield, and only 3 in every 10,000 beef animals
will make Prime, Yield Grade 1 beef.
It is no wonder Lawrence was inspired. He called Dean Hawkins, head of animal sciences, and boldly suggested they attempt to clone an animal from one of the carcasses. The duo started a chain of events that would take cells from the carcasses to Viagen, where the cloning process would occur. With input from numerous other individuals, the journey would take the cloned embryos through culturing, and eventual embryo transfers.
In 2010, Alpha and Gamma(s) were born
of surrogate mothers. Alpha, a bull cloned from a steer carcass, was revealed to contain 86% Angus and 14% Brahman genetics. Gamma 1, 2 and 3, were the start of a small group of heifers, with unpublished (at least from what I've read) genetic heritage.
Fortunately, all of the animals resulting from the procedure were fertile and last spring, the Gammas’ eggs were inseminated with Alpha’s strong genetics and the resulting embryos implanted in surrogates.
"At last check we had 14 pregnancies," Lawrence told the National Geographic
“We are years out on finding out what happens,” Hawkins told Feedlot Magazine
in March. “But we want to get their progeny through the system, slaughter them and see if they are better than just a random breeding. The actual clones will never enter the food chain. It’s their progeny that we’re interested in.”
And those progeny are safe eating, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Association. In 2008
, the FDA ruled meat and milk from cloned livestock (pigs, cows and goats) safe for human consumption.
Indeed, meat and milk from the progeny of cloned animals has already entered markets in Britain (though perhaps rather unexpectedly
). It’s hard to say whether or not similar products have entered the North American food markets, but the WTAM animals are a ways off yet.
“This will be a long-term project that will require between three and five years to produce significant results,” Don Topliff, dean of the College of Agriculture, Science and Engineering, said
. “We think this project will also provide us with a model to study other genetic traits beyond quality grade and yield grade that are of high importance to the sustainability of the beef industry."
Debra Murphy is a field editor for RealAgriculture, an avid photographer and a farm hand who is forever calling in stuck. You can find Debra on Twitter.