A new gene technology to differentiate between male and female chicks pre-hatch could improve animal production, reduce costs and eliminate ethical dilemmas for the egg and poultry industries.
Current industry practices
Recent advances in gene technology mean that it is now possible to differentiate between male and female chicks pre-hatch. This discovery provides an opportunity to improve animal production, reduce costs and eliminate ethical dilemmas in the egg laying and related industries.
Currently, culling male chicks post-hatch creates a major ethical dilemma for some countries. As a result, the poultry industry has invested in developing solutions to this issue.
In some European countries, the need for a solution is urgent, following the call by some governments to introduce legislation to ban culling practices.
Precision gene editing
We are undertaking a proof-of-concept project that differentiates between male and female chicks pre-hatch by placing a biological marker on the chicken's sex-determining chromosome.
The process of marking the sex chromosome is precise and requires intricate skills. The technology that we use for the sex selection process builds on our experience with chicken genome engineering and gene editing, and the skills to undertake this work were developed in collaboration with industry and university partners.
All of our research involving gene technology is performed according to Australian legislation for gene technology, including regulations set out by the Office of the Gene Technology Regulator (OGTR). We operate within strict guidelines which ensure the safety of the community and the environment and also ensures rigorous scientific practices are followed.
Potential opportunity for industry
The option of pre-hatch sex determination could negate the need to cull chickens, and contribute to future proofing our food security through a more sustainable industry. This new technology could be integrated into existing farming practices, potentially making it easy for industry to adopt.
An additional benefit of this technology is the potential to use the male eggs to protect people from influenza viruses. For example, human influenza vaccines are generally grown by vaccine manufacturers in fertilised chicken eggs. The pre-hatched male eggs that are no longer required by the layer industry could then be used to help produce seasonal flu vaccines.