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PhD training program delivers long-term industry benefits

Thursday 12th of November 2015
Fiona Anderson
Fiona Anderson

The sheep industry’s investment in student training is delivering ongoing returns, with more than 90% of sponsored post-graduates continuing to work in agriculture following completion of their programs.

Among them is former PhD postgraduate Fiona Anderson, who has recently commenced as a lecturer in physiology at Murdoch University, teaching courses in the Veterinary and Animal Science degree programs and continuing her research in the area of meat science with Associate Professor Graham Gardner and Professor David Pethick.

Since starting as a PhD student with the Sheep CRC in July 2010, Ms Anderson has been focussing on measuring carcass composition in lambs using computerised tomography (CT). Ms Anderson’s PhD research produced important new information on factors determining lean meat yield, and the distribution of muscle, fat and bone throughout the lamb carcass.

“The extensive data available from CT scans of around 2000 carcases allowed me to very accurately determine factors associated with variation of muscle and fat composition in the carcass,” she said.

“The results from the progeny of a diverse range of sires were then compared back to the Australian Sheep Breeding Values, or ASBVs, of the parents.”

From her research, Ms Anderson ascertained that sires with high breeding values for post-weaning eye muscle depth and reduced c-site fat depths were more likely to produce lambs with higher lean meat yield.

The financial implications of the changes in carcass composition are huge. For example, progeny from high muscling sires can have a carcass worth more than $20 more than those from low muscling sires.

“By using the ASBVs to select the right sires, we can have confidence the breeding values are delivering exactly what we want,” she said.

Increasing lean meat yield is associated with a reduction in intramuscular fat, which can negatively impact eating quality through juiciness and flavour. Ms Anderson’s research included a study of whether intramuscular fat should be measured in other parts of the carcass and not exclusively to the loin muscle.

“We’ve always thought that by measuring intramuscular fat in the loin of a carcass it would deliver an adequate assessment of its presence in other cuts, but we weren’t 100% sure,” she said.

“We determined the percentage of intramuscular fat in different parts of the carcass, including the fore and hind sections, with the result reaffirming what we always thought.”

The significant correlation of intramuscular fat content between muscles in other parts of the carcass, confirmed that a single site of measurement in the loin is all that is needed.

The results of Ms Anderson’s research will form the basis of a more accurate and streamlined process for determining the impact of genetics on carcass composition and meat eating quality.

The Cooperative Research Centre for Sheep Industry Innovation (Sheep CRC) each year sponsors a number of postgraduate students to undertake postgraduate research programs and it is currently advertising for students to apply for next year’s intake.

Graduate tracking surveys completed between 2009 and 2013 demonstrated that 70pc of postgraduates have since found employment directly within the sheep and cattle industries, and that 90pc had been retained more broadly within agriculture.

Sheep CRC Post-Grad Training Program leader Dr Graham Gardner, an Associate Professor at Murdoch University’s School of Veterinary and Life Sciences, said recruitment for the Sheep CRC program was based upon academic potential and a genuine commitment to the sheep industry.

“Most of these graduates have been employed in senior research scientist or academic positions, emphasising the demand for highly trained scientists within the sheep industry,” Dr Gardner said.

More information on applying for Sheep CRC sponsored post-graduate training positions is available at www.sheepcrc.org.au/education/postgraduate-scholarships-2015.php

Media contact: Michael Thomson on 07 4927 0805 / 0408 819 666

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