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Genetic markers for meat quality in beef cattle: increasingly accurate localisations

In the context of a joint research programme involving actors from the cattle industry and INRA research scientists, new genomic analysis tools have enabled precise localisation of the chromosomal regions underpinning meat quality criteria in three cattle breeds.  A first step towards the identification of selective breeding stock.  

Jeunes bovins au pre dans le bocage normand.. © INRA, PAILLARD Gérard
Updated on 05/21/2015
Published on 03/17/2015

Juicy, tender and dark in colour; these are the criteria for high-quality beef that is appreciated by consumers.  To meet these expectations, the cattle industry works constantly to improve production.  One of the pathways explored is the identification of genetic determinants in the genome of the animals.  Identifying these determinants, and then selecting the animals that carry them, would make it possible to achieve consistently high quality production, an undeniable advantage for both domestic and export markets. 

Several countries that produce and export cattle (Australia, USA) have also entered the race to identify these genetic markers.  The French market, characterised by the breeds that are farmed, the preferential consumption of female or non-castrated male cattle and the methods used to cook meat, requires the development of specific breeding tools. 

The Qualvigène project: pioneering studies

As early as 2003, scientists in the Joint Research Unit for Animal Genetics and Integrative Biology (GABI), associated with numerous actors in the cattle industry (UNCEIA, Institut de l’Elevage, Gene Diffusion, Midatest, UCATRC) working in the context of the Qualvigene project, focused on identifying these genetic determinants for quality in Charolaise, Limousine and Blonde d’Aquitaine cattle, these being the three main beef breeds raised in France.
To achieve this, they built up a phenotyping database that covered samples of meat from more than 3300 animals (progeny testing).  Three quality criteria were measured in the laboratory (colour L*, intramuscular fat and shearing force), and sensory qualities (tenderness, juiciness, flavour) were evaluated by specialised tasting panels.  An analysis of genetic variability confirmed the heritability of these complex traits.  Most of these traits displayed a heritability coefficient of between 0.10 and 0.24 in the three breeds.  One notable exception was in Charolais cattle, where tenderness and shearing force had coefficients of 0.44 and 0.50, respectively (markedly heritable).  The scientists then tried to localise the genetic zones of interest - or QTL - for the traits under study. 

New genetic analysis tools

The availability of SNP microarrays, powerful tools to explore the genome, has enable pursuit of the research initiated during Qualvigène. In the context of an INRA/UNCEIA CIFRE thesis project, the scientists used 50k  chips (Illumina BovineSNP50 BeadChip) to perform a more accurate analysis of the DNA of animals.  They genotyped all the young bulls used during the Qualvigène programme, the aims being to produce a more detailed map of the genomic regions (QTL) involved in quality and to localise markers associated with the targeted traits as close as possible to the causal mutations responsible for phenotypic variability. 

The scientists showed that there is no major gene that underlies these traits, but several genomic regions intervene in a significant manner.  For the four traits measured, 44, 34 and 64 different positions, spread over the entire chromosome, were identified in the Charolaise, Limousine and Blonde d’Aquitaine breeds, respectively.  These regions were often specific to a breed, and few QTL were shared by the three breeds at once.  Some of these regions are situated close to genes that have already been identified as being involved in muscle growth, such as myostatin (GDF8), or in meat tenderness, such as calpain 1 (CAPN1) and calpastatin (CAST).

To refine these results, and to build up a series of markers that could be used in each breed, further studies are currently under way linked to the "Gembal" and "1000 génomes" projects.  This will enable increasingly accurate exploration of the cattle genome, and the identification of markers that can be used for the reliable selection of traits for beef cattle.  

Scientific contact(s):

  • Gilles RENAND (0134652212) Joint Research Unit for Animal Genetics and Integrative Biology (GABI)
Associated Division(s):
Animal Genetics
Associated Centre(s):

Find out more

  • Allais, S., Levéziel, H., Hocquette, J. F., Rousset, S., Denoyelle, C., Journaux, L., & Renand, G. (2014). Fine mapping of quantitative trait loci underlying sensory meat quality traits in three French beef cattle breeds. Journal of animal science, 92(10), 4329-4341.
  • Allais S., Journaux L., Levéziel H., Payet-Duprat N., Raynaud P., Hocquette J.F., Lepetit J., Rousset S., Denoyelle C., Bernard-Capel C., Renand G., 2011. Effects of polymorphisms in the calpastatin and μ-calpain genes on meat tenderness in three French beef breeds. Journal of Animal Science, 89, 1-11.
  • Allais S., Levéziel H., Payet-Duprat N., Hocquette J.F., Lepetit J., Rousset S., Denoyelle C., Bernard-Capel C., Journaux L., Bonnot A., Renand G., 2010. The two mutations, Q204X and nt821, of the myostatin gene affect carcass and meat quality in young heterozygous bulls of French beef breeds. Journal of Animal Science, 88, 446-454.