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Breakthrough In Editing Chicken Genes Could Stop Cull Of Billions Of Male Chicks In The Egg Industry

Scientists in Israel have developed a breakthrough that may stop billions of male chicks in the egg industry being culled each year.

The scientists from The Volcani institute near Tel Aviv, Israel, edited the genes of hens so that they would lay eggs that only hatch female chicks. Currently, when hens lay eggs there is no way to determine gender. Male chicks born into the egg industry are seen as waste products and disposed of.

Yuval Cinnamon led the research, on behalf of The Volcani Institute, which is a centre for agricultural research. He told BBC News that the development of what he calls the ”Golda hen” will make a huge difference to animal welfare.

“I am very happy that we have developed a system that I think can truly revolutionise the industry, first of all for the benefit of the chickens but also for all of us, because this is an issue that affects every person on the planet.”

The research was backed by animal welfare group, Compassion in World Farming (CIWF). The non-profit group campaigns and lobbies for better welfare standards in farming.

So how are the hens only able to produce eggs that lay other hens?

Simply put, female chickens have one W and one Z chromosome (WZ), whilst male chickens have two Z chromosomes (ZZ). The female chicken’s Z chromosome was edited by the scientists, so that when it is exposed to blue light, if paired with another Z chromosome from a rooster, a male chick won’t hatch. This will not affect female chickens hatching, as they take the Z chromosome from the male parent.

How Gene editing can stop culling of male chicks

Image of how edited genes can stop male chicks being culled.

Dr Cinnamon and his team are planning to license this research through their company, Huminn Poultry.

This technology could revolutionise the egg industry and lessen the cruelty that is part and parcel of it. According to CIWF, seven billion male chicks are slaughtered each year because they have no commercial value.

Peter Stephenson from CIWF said that this was a “really important development” for animal welfare.

“Normally I am very wary of using gene editing of farm animals. But this is an exceptional case and I, and my colleagues at CIWF are supportive of it.”

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