In Ovo

Dutch biotech company In Ovo, a spin-off of Leiden University, developed a unique test method to discover whether a chick is male or female, while it is still in the egg. The company has been given an investment of several million euros to further develop the test method. The founders are now set to market their successful prototype.

At the moment, newly hatched chicks are sorted manually according to their gender. Because the males cannot lay eggs, they are destroyed immediately after hatching. In the Netherlands alone, around 45 million male chicks are killed every year. On a worldwide basis, this concerns about 3.2 billion one-day-old, male chicks. The In Ovo method of determining a chick’s gender while still in the egg is expected to reduce these numbers drastically.

Determine biomarkers

In Ovo’s method can determine the gender of an egg within seconds on day nine after fertilization. A miniscule hole is made in the egg – a method that is currently used for vaccination and that has no adverse effect on the chicken embryo – and a tiny sample is removed. By measuring the presence of a specific biomarker, it is possible to determine whether the embryo is male or female.

Improved animal welfare

Sorting the chicks and killing the one-day-old males is a stressful process. Being able to determine the chick’s gender while it is still in the egg, and while its sensory perception is not yet developed, represents a great step forward in animal welfare. An advantage to the farmer is that it is also more efficient. 

Lower CO2 emissions

The In Ovo method is environmentally friendly, too. Fewer eggs need to be incubated, which results in lower CO2 emissions and lower energy consumption, all of which have financial benefits for farmers. The method allows for large-scale screening of hatching eggs, without the need for huge adjustments to the logistics of hatcheries.

Spin-off

The major part of the investment of several millions of euros comes from Evonik, originally a German chemicals company, and the venture capital company Visvires New Protein. Rabobank Leiden-Katwijk has also contributed what is known as a Subordinated Innovation Investment. Leiden University, which has been closely involved with the company from its outset, is also investing in In Ovo’s further development. The company is a spin-off of the Leiden Institute of Biology and now works closely with the Leiden Academic Centre for Drug Research (LACDR).