Male eggs identified before they hatch

CSIRO researchers in the race to solve a global problem for the egg industry

Agribusiness
Dr Mark Tizard and his team believe they have found a way to identify male eggs before they hatch. Photo supplied.

Dr Mark Tizard and his team believe they have found a way to identify male eggs before they hatch. Photo supplied.

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Industry says identifying male eggs will have welfare and economic benefits.

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CSIRO researchers believe they have found a way to identify male eggs before they hatch, solving a huge issue for the egg industry.

Dr Mark Tizard, a project leader in CSIRO's Health and Biosecurity Business Unit explained, there is little use for male chicks in the egg industry because they don't lay eggs and they are unable to convert food into muscle efficiently for meat production.

"That means they are culled soon after hatching, before they are housed and fed, with only the hens going on to produce eggs," he said.

Australian Eggs' managing director Rowan McMonnies said technology that could identify male eggs was the subject of major investment by global companies and they were hopeful a feasible solution could be found soon.

"Being able to determine the gender of eggs before they hatch would mean the practice of euthanising day old male chicks could be avoided," he said.

"In addition to the major welfare benefit this would bring, the technology would likely deliver flow-on reductions in costs from reduced chick hatchings."

But the solution being chased all over the world, could be found close to home.

Dr Tizard and his team have come up with technology which, places a genetic marker on a male chromosome.

Dr Tizard said this genetic marker was designed to create a fluorescent protein that glows if a UV light is shined onto it.

"This means when the egg is laid we can shine the laser through the shell and if we get a glow we know it is a male egg and we remove it from the system," he said.

"If it doesn't glow that means it will be become a female and so we take it forward to the incubator."

Dr Tizard said the process of shining a laser on the egg shell would be simple to incorporate as it is designed to be included in the quality control process already in place at farm facilities.

The difficulty with the technology was at some stage of the process the male egg was genetically modified, through the insertion of a marker.

But Dr Tizard said they have spoken to industry in Australia and internationally and they believe regulations would not class the end product as GM because the male egg is removed while the female egg is not affected.

"We can do something that answers the problem the industry has and leaves the product exactly the same as it was," he said.

CSIRO said a proof of concept on the project, named 'Adaptive Eggs', has been completed in the lab and they were now negotiating with manufacturing and bird breeding companies to develop it into a viable product.

"We've just taken part in CSIRO's three-month program, On Accelerate, which is designed to take clever ideas in the laboratory through to something in the real world," Dr Tizard said.

This year's On Accelerate cohort, Accelerate5, included nine teams across fields including agtech, medtech and robotics.

The team have also thrown their hat in the ring for a six-million-dollar egg tech prize in the US, administrated by the Foundation for Food and Agriculture.

The prize will see scientists from across the world race to find a solution to this global problem, CSIRO hoping they have a chance of being in front.

This story first appeared inThe Land.

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