Billions of baby male chicks are slaughtered every year because they can’t lay eggs. Here’s how CRISPR gene editing could prevent them from being culled after birth

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Credit: EggXYt
Credit: EggXYt

The problem: Chick culling is the practice of killing small, day-old male chicks with a variety of fairly gruesome methods. Billions of chicks are killed this way each year — about 300 million in the U.S. alone. As the eggs hatch, specialized “sexers” sort the chicks by hand — the females survive, while the male birds are culled.

The challenge: Despite being an age-old practice, the industry is changing. France and Germany have pledged to ban culling by 2022.

In the United States, the United Egg Producers vowed in 2016 to stop culling male chicks as soon as it was economically feasible, reports Fast Company. But the group also stated in 2020 that no viable alternative existed.

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A powerful new solution: The team at EggXYt uses CRISPR to edit the genes of chickens so that a biomarker appears on the male chromosome… Once engineered, they can slip the eggs through a scanned — sort of like an airport security belt — and under the scanner, the biomarker glows. The eggs can be sorted automatically by sex without cracking the shell. The process could save time and money, since sexers will sort out the male eggs before placing them in the incubator.

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