Scientists develop non-invasive way to sex chicken eggs

Volatile chemicals reveal the sex of chicken embryos.


Fertilized chicken eggs can be sexed using volatile chemicals emitted through the shell, according to researchers from University of California Davis and Sensit Ventures Inc. A new study demonstrates the feasibility of sorting eggs by sex early in incubation. This method could help divert male eggs to other purposes, reducing waste and environmental impact.

The approach detects volatile organic compounds released by the developing embryo, and it relies on a sensing chip technology developed by Professor Cristina Davis’ lab at UC Davis. Sensit aims to commercialize this technology for various applications, including agriculture and medicine. Researchers have developed a suction cup sniffer to analyse air samples from eggs without opening them.

The suction cups, initially used for industrial egg handling, were adapted for this purpose. The air samples were analyzed using gas chromatography/mass spectrometry in Professor Cristina Davis’ lab at UC Davis.

The sex of the eggs was confirmed through DNA analysis in Professor Huajin Zhou’s lab. With this method, male and female embryos could be identified with 80% accuracy at eight days of incubation.

The suction-cup sampling process can be conducted rapidly in rows, allowing for efficient testing of multiple eggs simultaneously.

The hardware platform invented at UC Davis has the potential to be integrated into hatcheries, according to Tom Turpen, the president, and CEO of Sensit Ventures. Sensit Ventures, founded in 2015 with support from UC Davis, has benefited from accessing resources on campus for their research.

Researchers used an active sampling method to collect volatile chemicals from chicken eggs. The eggs were placed in a sealed chamber, and a vacuum pump was used to draw air. The air was then passed through a series of sorbent tubes, which trapped the volatile chemicals. The sorbent tubes were then analyzed using gas chromatography-mass spectrometry (GC-MS) to identify the volatile chemicals.

They collected samples from 100 chicken eggs, 50 of which were male and 50 of which were female. They found that the male eggs produced a different profile of volatile chemicals than the female eggs. The most significant difference was the presence of dihydrotestosterone in the male eggs.

They used a statistical method called discriminant analysis to classify the eggs by sex. Discriminant analysis is a statistical technique that can distinguish between two or more data groups. In this case, we used discriminant analysis to distinguish between male and female eggs based on the profile of volatile chemicals.

They found that we could classify the eggs with 80% accuracy. This means that if they randomly selected 100 eggs, they would correctly identify the sex of 80 of them.

The results show that it is possible to sex chicken eggs early in incubation by analyzing the volatile chemicals they emit. This method is non-invasive and does not harm the embryos. Producers could use it to identify and cull male embryos before they hatch, reducing waste and improving profitability.

This method is still under development, and further research is needed to improve the accuracy and efficiency of the method. However, the results of this study are promising, and this method could significantly impact the poultry industry.

Journal Reference:

  1. Eva Borras, Ying Wang, Priyanka Shah, et al. An active sampling of volatile chemicals for non-invasive classification of chicken eggs by sex early in incubation. Plos ONE. DOI:10.1371/journal.pone.0285726
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