Israeli scientists program sex chromosomes of hens to lay eggs of only female chicks

Israeli scientists developed a gene-editing technology that will prevent the development of male chicks that are unnecessary for the production of eggs.

 Chicks (photo credit: Poultry by Huminn)
(photo credit: Poultry by Huminn)

A gene-editing technology developed for the first time in the world by Israeli scientists will prevent the development of male chicks that are unnecessary for the production of eggs and which are thus killed in the billions around the world.

Hens will lay eggs from which just female chickens will hatch, according to the Israeli Agricultural Research Organization-Volcani Institute and Huminn-Impactful Innovation for Humanity.

The “Golda hen” that they developed is the first in the world to lay eggs from which only female chicks hatch. The unique technology transfers a biological trait through the sex chromosomes, preventing the development of male embryos.

The laying hen “Golda” succeeded in her mission and is currently leading a new generation of chickens, completely identical to the breed of hens that lay edible table eggs and are currently used in agriculture. The variety is named Golda after the hens’ color and not for late prime minister Golda Meir, although a representative of the scientists said this was a “nice coincidence.”

The European Union’s director-general for health and food safety has examined the technology and confirmed that the egg-laying hen and the eggs can be marketed as is currently the practice.

 Eggs (credit: Poultry by Huminn) Eggs (credit: Poultry by Huminn)

This is the first company that succeeded in developing a proven solution to this serious animal-welfare problem in the poultry industry. It eliminates any need for the sorting and destruction of some seven billion day-old male chicks every year that are considered an “unnecessary byproduct” in the edible-egg industry.

How did they find the solution?

The team of researchers led by Dr. Yuval Cinnamon have found a solution based on technology that transfers a biological feature to Golda’s sex chromosomes so that her eggs carrying male embryos do not develop. In addition to solving the animal-welfare issue, the substantial resources needed for hatching are reduced by almost half, and the costs of sorting and disposing of the male chicks is eliminated.

In recent years, there has been a growing demand from regulators and associations to solve this devastating animal-welfare issue. In February, the French government said starting in 2023, the practice of culling day-old male chicks would be banned. This statement followed Germany’s commitment to ban the killing of male chicks.

According to Dr. Yaarit Wainberg, CEO of Poultry by Huminn, “In recent years, we have witnessed a change in awareness around the world regarding animal welfare. But on the other hand, no practical solutions have been identified to stop the unfortunate phenomenon of killing the male chicks. We are proud and excited to be the first in the world to offer an effective solution, with a significant contribution to the entire value chain – all this based on Israeli science and innovation.”

Cinnamon said: “The size of the egg-laying market in the world is estimated at about seven billion laying hens, and for each hen, a male chick is culled. The production of table eggs in the world is estimated at over two trillion eggs per year – over 80 million tons. I had the privilege of leading a team of excellent and dedicated researchers, who developed a practical solution to an issue that affects every human being and so many animals.”

What is Huminn?

Huminn is an American-Israeli innovation company at the forefront of science and technology. It focuses on the creation and commercialization of revolutionary solutions in the fields of health, nutrition, environmental quality and human and animal welfare in the face of the challenges of the current era. The company was established five years ago under the name NRS Agro Innovation and in recent months has undergone a process of rebranding.

With its headquarters in Manhattan, alongside innovation labs and offices in Rensselaer, New York, and offices in Tel Aviv and labs in Rehovot, Huminn stands at the forefront of life sciences, the environment and the earth, oncology diagnostics, data science, genetic editing, microbiome research and agrotech, it said in a press release.

The company operates through its innovative Convergence Innovation platform, which combines advanced tools in molecular biology with advanced computational capabilities. The company has signed several strategic collaborations, including a partnership with the Volcani Institute, the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Beersheba and the National Institute for Biotechnology in the Negev.