CLA (conjugated linoleic acid) has been shown to reduce body fat in humans and has also been researched for its anti-carcinogenic and anti-diabetes properties.
It is already available, isolated from a plant source, for use in supplements and functional foods. But some researchers have also investigated the effects of increasing the content of CLA in food sources, such as dairy products, beef and lamb, in order to life our dietary intake of CLA.
However PhD student at the University of Western Australia Clare Engelke has found that the meat-fat of the Western Grey kangaroo in some circumstances has up to five times higher CLA content than lamb.
"Australian pastoral lamb is considered to be a relatively high source of CLA, so I was surprised to find the levels in kangaroos were that much higher in comparison," Engelke said.
Her study is believed to be the first research on CLA levels in kangaroos available in the public domain.
In collaboration with the University of Adelaide, Ms Engelke compared CLA levels in Western Grey kangaroos and lambs from the Badgingarra region in Western Australia and analysed tissue samples of other Western Greys, Red and Eastern Grey kangaroos from different areas of Australia.
CLA is produced in the stomach and tissues of ruminant animals such as sheep and cattle during the digestion process. Although kangaroos are not a true ruminant, they also ferment food in their foregut.
The meat is also very lean, with a 2 per cent fat content, and has high levels of protein, iron and zinc.
Engelke is now working to identify which microorganisms and circumstances are responsible for CLA formation and why kangaroo meat appears to be the highest known source of these healthy fats.
If successful, it may be possible to increase the CLA content of other meats and products to increase potential health benefits to consumers.
European scientists in Spain are also working to boost conjugated linoleic acid levels in lambs, as a means of increasing the nutritional value of the meat.
In Australia, kangaroo meat has traditionally been used for pet food but the European market for the meat grew by 30 per cent following the 2001 outbreak of foot and mouth disease. The kangaroo meat industry harvests approximately 2 million animals per annum.