MN company says it can change the sex of a chicken embryo using light

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A Minnesota-based company says it can control the sex of some animal embryos using light.

Once, Inc., an agricultural lighting company in Plymouth, is waiting on a patent to "influence the sex of oviparous embryos [chickens , amphibians and fish] naturally through the application of light," a news release says.

In most mammals, sex is determined by sex chromosomes, but that's not the case with these species, where the process is created by nature, Zdenko Grajcar, founder and CEO at Once, said in the release.

"We have targeted light absorption centers in sex-determining genes to either express them or knock them down," Grajcar adds. "In essence, we developed a very simple genetic male/female switch which is based on relatively inexpensive, narrow band light emitting diodes."

Before now, it was only possible to control the sex of embryos in eggs by genetically modifying the organism (GMO) or injecting it with potentially harmful hormones – methods that have become more controversial in recent years.

Being able to control the sex of an embryo is "revolutionary" for animal-production markets because it would "enhance production and the efficiency of production," the release says.

That's because different sexes of animals are desired for different things. Once gives the example of the poultry industry – hens are wanted for egg-laying operations, while males are the top pick for broiler operations. 

But because chickens are born at a roughly 50-50 sex ratio, approximately half of all the birds born to these operations are unproductive.

Once hopes its technology will change that, with the Business Journal noting that poultry companies have been interested in finding ways to reduce the number of unwanted male chicks that are killed. (Killing unneeded male chicks is becoming an animal welfare issue in some countries, reports.)

The company also says the technology could be useful for commercial aquaculture and horticulture, the release notes.

Once says it's in the process of conducting commercial trials and is expected to release "related technologies" in late 2016.

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