Imaging needles used in human brain surgery and a camera which measures fat in tuna are among the latest batch of potential technologies for objectively measuring marbling in lamb.
A commercial device that can accurately measure the intramuscular fat (IMF) in lamb has long been seen as the industry's holy grail.
IMF holds the key to guaranteed eating quality and an accurate guide to the amount of marbling could be used to underpin premium lamb brands and grades.
As well, reliable IMF measurements would pave the way for a value-based payment system for growers on the basis of marbling as well as lean meat yield.
Speaking on a webinar hosted by CQUniversity, Dr Pete McGilchrist from New England University provided a snapshot of the most promising new technologies now being researched in the race to find a solution to measuring IMF in lamb abattoirs.
Dr McGilchrist is a member of the research team at the Advanced Livestock Measurement Technologies (ALMTech) project.
Researchers are working to modify a near infrared (NIR) device developed by Japanese company, Soma, to measure fat levels in tuna.
The Soma device had been used to measure the IMF content of both hot topsides and cold loins with reasonable accuracy but more validation and calibration work was needed, Dr McGilchrist said.
Topsides were not an attractive part of the lamb carcase, he said, but their IMF levels shared a close correlation with loin IMFs.
So measuring the IMF of topsides on hot carcases could provide a guide to the better sorting of carcases as they entered chillers.
Researchers were now trying to adapt the Frontmatec loin eye camera, developed for beef, for use on much smaller lamb carcases, he said.
The analysis of images were challenging for lamb because small errors had a large percentage effect on measurements.
An updated MEQ probe, which has been around for several years and uses spectral analysis to determine eating quality, was being tested in a current MLA project and would be further assessed in a new project funded by the Australian Meat Processors Council.
A team headed by Dr Rob McLaughlin at Adelaide University was now seeking to adapt Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) to rapidly measure IMF in lamb.
Dr McGilchrist said OCT technology involved fitting tiny imaging equipment and optical fibre within a fine stainless steel needle and was used in intricate human brain surgery.
Trials so far indicated OCT had potential to accurately measure IMF in both hot and cold lamb carcases.
He said another "cool" technology now being trialled was Nuclear Magnetic Resonance using a MNR machine that had recently been in the Antarctica measuring carbon dioxide levels in ice.
The accuracy of results so far had been good and it was hoped to develop small MNR portable devices for use in abattoirs.
He said many other traits could be objectively measured to enhance eating quality information including enzyme levels, fat composition, connective tissue, water holding capacity and muscle fibre length.
What was missing was the technologies to do it efficiently and effectively.