Neil Clelland

PhD Title

Neil ClellandUse of computer tomography based predictors of meat quality in sheep breeding programmes

PhD Supervisor

Dr Nicola Lambe


I am a first year PhD student at SRUC. After gaining an honours degree in agriculture at SRUC, I then worked as a research technician with SRUC and in November 2011 started my PhD.

My research interests lie in the development and investigation of in vivo predictors of meat quality in lamb and the inclusion of potential predictors in sheep breeding programmes in the UK. Other research interests include the measurement of meat quality both in vivo and post mortem and the developments in improving meat quality through animal breeding strategies and novel processing techniques.

In addition to research I am keen on knowledge transfer and engage with researchers and industry bodies regarding some of the current issues in animal breeding and meat quality.

Research Project

"Use of computer tomography based predictors of meat quality in sheep breeding programmes"

There are different ways to improve meat eating quality (MEQ) characteristics in meat, both in vivo and post mortem, with the degree of intramuscular fat (IMF) playing an important role.  In beef a ‘window of acceptability’ has been identified, varying between a lower limit of 3% IMF and an upper limit of 7% for maximum palatability.
Consumer driven preference for leaner meat, coupled with the meat processing industries preference for a reduction in carcass fat, an increase in lean meat yield and a reduction in waste, have led to continued intense selection for lean growth and reduced fatness. However, IMF and carcass fat are genetically highly positively correlated, so this selection may have a negative impact on IMF levels, compromising MEQ.

X-ray computed tomography (CT) can measure fat, muscle and bone in vivo and CT predictions of carcass composition have been used in commercial UK sheep breeding programmes over the last few decades.
Previous research has demonstrated that average muscle density (MD) estimated by CT is a good predictor of IMF in sheep and other species. Strong negative correlations were found between IMF and MD. Taste panel scores for lamb MEQ traits such as flavour, juiciness and overall palatability were also shown to have strong negative genetic and phenotypic correlations with CT MD. SAC have, since 2002, had the technology available to perform spiral CT scanning improving the quality and amount of detailed images available through CT, in contrast with earlier techniques which involved taking a ‘slice’ of an area of interest and then moving on to the next area of interest.

The use of spiral CT, which is able to capture detailed three-dimensional information, may allow further advances in predicting aspects of meat quality. CT provides the means to quantify both IMF and carcass fat in vivo, enabling these measurements to be exploited in selection programmes.

The most suitable way to use this technology in breeding programmes to include MEQ and MQ traits has not been fully investigated. Genetic parameters are required to enable these studies, including estimates of heritability for CT predictor traits for MQ and correlations with other relevant.

Neil Clelland

PhD Student

Address: Animal & Veterinary Sciences, SRUC, Roslin Institute Building, Easter Bush, Midlothian EH25 9RG

Telephone: 0131 651 9293