Intramuscular fat (IMF) content in skeletal muscle including the longissimus dorsi muscle (LM), also known as marbling fat, is one of the most important factors determining beef quality in several countries including Korea, Japan, Australia, and the United States. Genetics and breed, management, and nutrition affect IMF deposition. Japanese Black cattle breed has the highest IMF content in the world, and Korean cattle (also called Hanwoo) the second highest. Here, we review results of research on genetic factors (breed and sex differences and heritability) that affect IMF deposition. Cattle management factors are also important for IMF deposition. Castration of bulls increases IMF deposition in most cattle breeds. The effects of several management factors, including weaning age, castration, slaughter weight and age, and environmental conditions on IMF deposition are also reviewed. Nutritional factors, including fat metabolism, digestion and absorption of feed, glucose/starch availability, and vitamin A, D, and C levels are important for IMF deposition. Manipulating IMF deposition through developmental programming via metabolic imprinting is a recently proposed nutritional method to change potential IMF deposition during the fetal and neonatal periods in rodents and domestic animals. Application of fetal nutritional programming to increase IMF deposition of progeny in later life is reviewed. The coordination of several factors affects IMF deposition. Thus, a combination of several strategies may be needed to manipulate IMF deposition, depending on the consumer's beef preference. In particular, stage-specific feeding programs with concentrate-based diets developed by Japan and Korea are described in this article.
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