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Posted 11.07.05

MU Researchers Perfecting Beef Tenderness Biosensor

COLUMBIA, MO -- or the millions of Americans who enjoy consuming beef, finding a tender cut is among the highest priorities in meat selection. Consequently, tender beef may bring a higher price for farmers and retailers. No quick method currently exists for beef producers to predict how tender meat will be from any given cow. Using an innovative approach, researchers at the University of Missouri-Columbia are close to developing a process that will take the guesswork out of predicting meat tenderness, resulting in better choices for consumers.

Sheila Grant, assistant professor of biological engineering, along with Carol Lorenzen, associate professor of food science, and a group of MU researchers from the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources have targeted the protein calpastatin, which is found in meat and is known to regulate meat tenderness by binding to and inhibiting the protein calpain, which is responsible for breaking down tissue structure.

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"The ability to accurately predict the calpastatin concentration of beef with a biosensor at the time of grading would lead to a more accurate assessment of the overall palatability of beef when it reaches a consumer," Lorenzen said.

In this study, the researchers developed a biosensor using fluorescence resonance energy transfer, a technique for measuring interactions between two proteins. The biosensor could accurately detect calpastatin levels with a response time of about five minutes. Current methods take up to three days.

"Such a sensor could be installed in a commercial setting and could correctly sort meat into categories of tough and tender, allowing the meat industry to guarantee tender meat, thereby recapturing millions of dollars that are lost annually due to inadequate gauging of meat tenderness," Grant said.

The researchers have tested the biosensor in processed beef and say the next step is to test it in unprocessed beef, which could happen as early as this year. The research was published in the journal Biosensors and Bioelectronics.



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