The University of Adelaide measures the quality of Australian lamb

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A $ 1.5 million Cooperative Research Center Projects (CRC-P) grant has been awarded to a team of medical engineers and livestock researchers at the University of Adelaide, to develop a new needle that measures intramuscular fat (IMF) in lamb carcasses, to determine quality.

In the sheepmeat industry, the amount of intramuscular fat is a key indicator of taste quality. However, it can be particularly difficult to measure in lamb carcasses, which are not individually graded.

Together with Meat & Livestock Australia (MLA) and tech start-up Miniprobes, the University of Adelaide team aims to overcome this problem.

The intramuscular fat needle (IMF) is a stainless steel needle equipped with a tiny fiber optic camera that, when inserted, provides an instant, high-resolution scan of the fat structure in the muscle.

“This device will provide our exporters with a technological advantage over lamb from other countries, with the potential to increase sales of Australian mutton by $ 183 million per year,” said Professor Rob McLaughlin, Principal Investigator and Managing Director of Miniprobes at the University of Adelaide.

“The work is currently focused on lamb. However, it also has potential application for the beef industry.

Originally developed for the medical industry, the needle design is based on 10 years of research and development at the University of Adelaide and the University of Western Australia.

“The technology was originally developed to identify human cancer cells, but we found in testing that it was more effective at seeing individual fat cells than cancer cells,” McLaughlin said.

McLaughlin and his team saw a potential new use for the technology after speaking to MLA, who stressed the importance of being able to objectively measure the taste quality of mutton.

“One of the accomplishments we have had was that almost all of the medical technology we have worked on has equivalent use in the livestock industry,” McLaughlin said.

The IMF needle is based on standard medical imaging technology and works the same as high resolution ultrasound, but uses near infrared light instead of sound. When the needle is inserted into the carcass, the camera scans the tissue along the needle track. Fat appears as a black and white honeycomb texture and muscle appears as a more even texture of muscle fibers. The fat is then identified and measured using an artificial neural network.

In an MLA-funded pilot study on the needle, researchers were able to estimate intramuscular fat in hot carcasses with an average error of 0.9%.

In addition to measuring the MFI, the needle offers other benefits for the red meat industry, including the ability to assess carcasses without damaging them, and the ability to provide feedback to farmers. Farmers can use this information to improve animal husbandry quality and breeding approaches for the best yields.

The CRC-P grant will help translate this new technology into a commercial product for the Australian red meat industry.

“This device will provide our exporters with a technological advantage over lamb from other countries, with the potential to increase sales of Australian mutton by $ 183 million per year,” McLaughlin said.

“The work is currently focused on lamb. However, it also has potential application for the beef industry.

The research team also received an ARC Linkage project for research on the next generation of meat quality technology.


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