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The molecular biology of sex determination and sexual development in birds - LS3311

There are significant welfare and sustainability issues associated with current industry practises relating to gender. Chicks of egg-laying strain have to be sexed on day of hatch and only the female chicks retained, (resulting in the annual killing of 450million day-old male chicks in EU and USA alone), while poultry meat producers have to accept the relative inefficiency of raising an equal number of slower growing females (males outweigh females by as much as 35% at age of sale). The ability to identify the gender of chicks, in ovo, would both improve productivity and competitiveness and should greatly alleviate the welfare problem associated with slaughtering large numbers of day-old chicks. Ideally the industry would like a simple, rapid and sensative test that could be performed early in embryonic development and that could be fully automated. Developments in this area have been hampered by the lack of knowledge regarding the mechanisms controlling sex-determination and sexual development in birds. For example, earlier, unsuccessful attempts to manipulate the sex ratios as hatch were based on the assumption that the controlling mechanisms in birds are similar to those seen in animals, while our recent findings (LS3301) strongly suggests that this assumption is incorrect.
We have focused primarily on identifying sex-specific markers with a view to devising sex identification assays, suitable for use in a commercial setting. This proposal would both, continue the development of non-PCR assays based on existing markers, and seek to identify additional protein markers via a strategy informaed by our recent findings on the control of sexual development in birds.
The main objective of this research is to underpin the development of sexing assays that will allow the identification of chick sex during the embryonic stage of development. Such procedures will improve animal welfare and at the same time yield benefits in economic performance.
Project Documents
• Final Report : The molecular biology of sex determination and sexual development in birds   (2041k)
Time-Scale and Cost
From: 2003

To: 2006

Cost: £592,213
Contractor / Funded Organisations
Roslin Institute, Edinburgh (BBSRC)
Animal Production              
Biotech-non GM              
Livestock Farming              
Molecular Biology              
Sustainable Farming and Food              
Sustainable Production              
Fields of Study