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Light application may influence embryo sex

Patent-pending technology may have application in broiler and egg-laying industries as well as aquaculture.

ONCE Inc. announced April 27 that it has received a notice of allowance on its application from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office to influence the sex of oviparous embryos naturally through the application of light.

Prior to this technology, controlling the sex of embryos in eggs could be achieved only by either genetically modifying the organism or injecting it with potentially harmful hormones.

"Vertebrates employ varied strategies, both chromosomal and non-chromosomal, to determine the sex of the developing embryo," ONCE founder and chief executive officer Zdenko Grajcar explained. "In most mammals, sex is determined genetically by means of sex chromosomes. However, in ovarian species, sex-linked genes can initiate sexually dimorphic pathways during development. It is very normal process created by nature.

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

The ability to influence the sex of the embryo naturally before hatching is revolutionary. In the avian and other animal production markets, the ability to control or affect the sex of animals would greatly enhance production and the efficiency of production. For example, egg-laying operations want only female chickens, but because males and females are born at roughly a 51-to-49 sex ratio, approximately half of all birds hatched at such operations are unproductive. On the other hand, in the broiler industry, male chickens are more desirable because of their significantly faster growth compared to females.

Similar scenarios apply to commercial aquaculture and possibly other markets outside of animal production, including horticulture.

ONCE is in the process of conducting large-scale commercial trials and expects to release related technologies in late 2016.

ONCE is a technology company that applies innovations in photobiology and optogenetics to animal, horticultural and agricultural lighting in the biosecurity and hatchery markets to enhance performance.

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