In 1990, the Meat Science Research Program in the Department of Animal and Food Sciences at Texas Tech University owned one beaker. Two faculty members taught all classes, coached the meat judging team, and still found time for research on the side.
Today, the program has grown to encompass seven faculty members with five to seven graduate students per faculty member. The program is housed in a new multi-million dollar building complete with its own state of the art Meat Science Laboratory, a full size kitchen, and state-of-the-art sensory labs. Once extremely limited, the research of the Meat Science and Muscle Biology Program is now approaching becoming one of the best in the nation.
Although the program is extremely integrated, there are three distinct areas of research led by three outstanding scientists and professors.
First, Brad Johnson, Ph.D., focuses on the marbling qualities of meat science research. Having just arrived in June 2008, Johnson is the Gordon W. Davis Regent's Chair in Meat & Muscle Biology. Johnson has worked extensively in researching the growth and development of major tissues, specifically skeletal muscle, and looking at how steroidal implants will impact the overall palatability and quality of a carcass. Currently, he is working on projects that include research to find certain agents to enhance marbling. He looks to use steroidal implants and beta agonists as a model to find natural techniques for increased muscle volume and intramuscular fat.
“Our research will benefit the students and personnel by allowing for a more successful understanding of meat science concepts,” says Johnson. “What we learn in the research lab will later be taught in classes here at the university.”
Chance Brooks, Ph.D., an Assistant Professor in Meat Science, focuses on the effects of package type and package characteristics on the shelf life, spoilage masking, and safety of meat products. In addition, Brooks has explored ways of adding value to beef products through product enhancement, manipulation of underutilized enhancement techniques, and use of unconventional muscles for steak and roast cuts.
“Our research allows for three basic objectives to be completed,” Brooks explains. “It trains and prepares students, secures funding and publications, and provides visibility for not only the department but also the university.”
Brooks led a team of presenters at a governmental hearing in Washington D.C. characterizing the safety and spoilage masking characteristics of meat packages containing carbon monoxide gas.
The third research area of the Meat Science and Muscle Biology faculty is in the area of consumer sensory of meat products. Mark Miller, Ph.D., is a Professor and holds the San Antonio Livestock Show Distinguished Chair in Meat Science. Miller has analyzed the consumer preferences of grass-fed versus grain fed beef, enhanced beef, differences in grading and production practices, and the different flavoring components used in various cooking techniques.
Miller and his graduate students frequently hold consumer sensory panels throughout many different cities across the United States and at the Animal and Food Sciences Building where they invite thirty community members to sample several varying pieces of meat; the consumers provide feedback as to how they rate the samples' tenderness, juiciness, and flavor.
Miller explained that consumer sensory studies are rewarding because consumers who participate in the studies are able to raise money for their organizations by volunteering to serve as panelists.
Students who come to Texas Tech University and research in our department as a part of their graduate studies will have an extremely diversified experience, Miller claims.
“They learn to serve and help others, work with real-time issues, [have] exposure to the industry, and operate in a family atmosphere,” he says. “When students graduate, they are very valuable because of these experiences.”
In addition to these three professors, three other professors work very closely with the Meat Science Research team. These include Interim Department Chair and Professor of Food Science and Safety Leslie Thompson, Ph.D.; Associate Professor of Food Microbiology and Food Safety Mindy Brashears, Ph.D.; and Assistant Professor Christine Alvarado, Ph.D. who specializes in poultry production.
In January 2009, another faculty member, Jessica Starkey, Ph.D., joined the Meat Science program's research team. She brought a new dimension to the research team. Starkey's research emphasis is focused on the molecular regulation of pre and postnatal myogenesis.
The team has very high hopes for the future of the department,” says Johnson “We need to keep working hard to secure the best and brightest students and grant dollars.”
According to Miller, the Meat Science Research Team has always been really good at being able to answer what happens; now their focus is shifting to be able to answer the why.