At our Saskatchewan Institute Annual Meeting in Yorkton, I had the opportunity to listen to Leigh Marquess from Quantum Genetics, in Saskatoon. He was presenting a talk on what his company has developed as a genetic tool for the cattle industry. It looks like they have found a gene that will have a major impact on how cattle are fed for market in North America. What once used to be in the imagination of cattle feeders and scientists is becoming a reality. The beef industry markets beef. It is paid for weight and fat. Fat can be in the form of back fat and marbling. The right amount of weight with each carcass and the right amount of back fat and marbling will allow the cattle feeder to collect premiums. If a set of genes could be identified that would allow the best carcass characteristic to come forward, there is money to be made in the cattle industry. Quantum Genetics of Saskatoon has identified a gene that can do this and are now using it in a feedlot in Texas to make cattle feeding more efficient. A mutation was found in the leptin gene that allowed for the development of new feeding strategies for beef cattle. Leptin is a product secreted by the fat tissue in animals that is part of the control system for appetite in animals. The genetic mutation that was discovered allowed a way to identify animals that had similar eating habits to be grouped together. These groupings help reduce the variability within a pen of cattle in the feedlot and allows for a specific feeding program to be applied in this pen. Cattle will reach markets at the same time in similar conditions. This potential is a major improvement on existing feeding practices where cattle are fed for the average animal in a pen. This is critical in an industry where profits are measured in dollars per head. Knowing the expected performance of animals allows a marketing plan to be put in place that will improve the value of the cattle when they go to slaughter. By screening the potential feed performance of individual animals, the amount of feed and the quality of feed can be more precisely predicted. It also allows the use of specific feed additives to be utilized in the most economical fashion. In the end, this allows more economical feeding of the beef that we eat. The program starts with identification of what leptin gene mutation that is present in the animal. Once this is known, the animals are put in the appropriate pen and fed accordingly. A genetic test is the basis of the whole feeding program. Advanced genetics will be a major part of our food industry in the future. Innovations like what Quantum Genetics have discovered are what are going to help feed our growing world populations. Science is a tool that will allow us to produce more quality food into the future.
Dave Cubbon, P Ag