If you’ve had a child in the last few decades, you’ve had a choice to make: if you want to know the sex of the baby ahead of time. With ultrasound you can find out or–popular these days–you can have the result sealed and have a baker create a reveal cake. Apparently, researchers at the Dresden University of Technology and the University of Leipzig wanted to do the same trick with unborn chickens.
You might wonder why anyone cares (we did). Apparently, chickens that are bred for egg laying don’t produce roosters suitable for food use. This leads to about half of the chicks being “culled” (a less ugly euphemism than gassed or shredded) and used in–among other things–animal feed. Worldwide, billions of chicks are culled each year and that’s not counting other similar situations like male turkeys and female ducks.
Determining the sex of the embryo before hatching allows the egg to be culled before the chick develops enough to have a nervous system. That’s more humane, and–presumably–doesn’t waste resources nurturing eggs that will not be used anyway.
The process involves using a LASER to cut a small hole in the top of the egg. Then near-infrared spectroscopy measures the DNA content which is about 2% higher in male embryos. The technique is 95% accurate and the eggs they keep are resealed with adhesive tape.
Honestly, we didn’t know much about chicken culling and it is unsettling to think about. This does seem more humane, although you can only wonder if industry will be willing to adopt it. We’ve talked about the food supply chain before. If you want to go off the chicken grid, maybe this will get you started.