DENVER — As part of approximately $1 million worth of Beef Checkoff funding from the Beef Promotion Operating Committee used to support industry research includes a proposal to examine how marbling is developed in beef.

Researchers at the University of Idaho and Texas Tech University submitted the proposal, "Regulation of Marbling Development in Beef Cattle by Specific Fatty Acids." The project will use three different models to uncover how fat is deposited both inside and outside the muscle.

"We’re trying to figure out how to improve quality grade and yield grade simultaneously by understanding the development of fat," said Matt Doumit, University of Idaho meat scientist. "We’re looking at the effects of fatty acids on the differentiation of fat cells from intramuscular fat depots — which give rise to marbling — as well as those from subcutaneous fat."

The trials will take three different approaches to the same problem, Mr. Doumit said. His work will focus on the precursor cells, or pre-adipocytes, to determine whether certain fatty acids prefer internal or external fat. Texas Tech’s Brad Johnson will look at "going from a muscle satellite cell, or specialized muscle cell, and how it converts to intramuscular fat or marbling," Mr. Doumit said. Texas A&M University’s Stephen Smith will study mature fat cells at different growth stages.

National Beef Quality Audit numbers quantify the magnitude of quality and yield grade challenges.

"It’s about a $1.3-billion problem for the industry by not having the optimum yield and quality grade distributions," he said.

Mr. Doumit said both are "heavily influenced" by fat deposition, so understanding how that happens at different places within the animal is critical to improving beef palatability and cutability.

Initial results may be published by summer 2010.