New method casts light on a chicken and egg problem | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: September 6, 2016

New method casts light on a chicken and egg problem

Raman spectroscopy could make chicken breeding more humane by identifying the sex of embryos still in the egg
Department: Science & Technology
News Channels: Analytical SCENE, Biological SCENE, Environmental SCENE
Keywords: food, spectroscopy, chickens, eggs, poultry, animal husbandry, Raman spectroscopy, chick culling
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Researchers use a laser to cut away a piece of shell, revealing the blood vessels in the developing chicken embryo. After analysis by Raman spectroscopy, they seal the hole with tape and leave the embryo to develop to maturity.
Credit: Anal. Chem.
Top views of an egg showing circular cut in the shell, the shell removed revealing blood vessels within, and the hole taped closed.
 
Researchers use a laser to cut away a piece of shell, revealing the blood vessels in the developing chicken embryo. After analysis by Raman spectroscopy, they seal the hole with tape and leave the embryo to develop to maturity.
Credit: Anal. Chem.

For chickens bred to lay eggs, being male is a gloomy prospect. These cockerels develop too slowly to be raised for meat, so they are usually killed within days of hatching by methods including gassing and grinding. The practice culls billions of chicks each year, raising ethical concerns for consumers and animal rights advocates. As a result, both United Egg Producers, the U.S. industry group that represents most hatcheries for egg-laying hens, and the German government have pledged to end the practice in coming years, or once an alternative is available. Now researchers have developed an approach that could help speed this transition: using spectroscopy to identify the sex of a developing chicken embryo while it’s still in the egg (Anal. Chem. 2016, DOI: 10.1021/acs.analchem.6b01868). The method, which has up to 95% accuracy, could allow hatcheries to cull male chick embryos just three days into development, before they are sensitive to pain.

Currently, the sex of chicks can be determined before they hatch by sampling hormone levels or DNA from within the egg after removing a piece of shell. But hormonal tests must be done on about day nine of development, and chicks become sensitive to pain at about day seven, says Roberta Galli of Dresden University of Technology. Moreover, these testing methods require taking a sample from each egg, followed by chemical analysis, which may not be feasible on an industrial scale.

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A new method uses Raman spectroscopy to detect the sex of developing chicken embryos within the egg by removing a piece of shell and illuminating the blood vessels within.
Credit: Roberta Galli
Photograph of eggs inside Raman spectroscopy instrument.
 
A new method uses Raman spectroscopy to detect the sex of developing chicken embryos within the egg by removing a piece of shell and illuminating the blood vessels within.
Credit: Roberta Galli

Galli and her colleagues wanted to develop a less invasive method that could be applied earlier in development. The team has used Raman spectroscopy for other sensitive biomedical applications, so they thought the approach might be able to determine sex, which imparts differences to blood biochemistry. Male blood has different protein and sugar profiles and about 2% more DNA than female blood.

The method the team developed uses a laser to cut a 15-mm-diameter circle in the end of an eggshell. When the researchers remove the shell piece on day three of development, the embryo’s blood vessels are visible. They shine near-infrared light on the vessels and detect the scattering with a Raman spectrometer; the spectrum is rapidly assigned to a sex based on algorithms the team developed. For 101 eggs whose sex was also determined by DNA test, the algorithm correctly identified embryo sex in 90% of cases. However, Galli says they have since optimized the system, nudging the accuracy to 95%—closer to the 98% accuracy of manual sex determination used in industry based on examining the feathers or genitals. After the analysis, the researchers close up the egg with surgical adhesive tape and allow development to continue. About 81% of the eggs they tracked after the test hatched and developed normally, compared to 92% of control eggs, though other control studies report hatching rates of 84–90%.

The team’s lab system can process two to three eggs per minute—much slower than expert chick sexers, who can work at five to eight times that rate. But the team is building an industrial prototype to automate the process and has partnered to test it with Lohmann Tierzucht, a major commercial producer of egg-laying hens in Germany, where demand for an alternative to chick culling is high. Right now the team does not have a cost estimate for the prototype, Galli says, but the fact that the method requires minimal consumable products may keep expenses down.

Rodrigo Gallardo, an expert in poultry biology at the University of California, Davis, calls the technique “very promising” because it can be applied so early in development and is less invasive than other methods. However, he says, it “needs further development and refinement to be used in the poultry industry,” including lowering the processing time, improving the accuracy, and ensuring that the method does not harm or contaminate developing chicks.

 
Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © American Chemical Society
Comments
Raghu Nandan Gurram (September 7, 2016 3:12 PM)
I believe every technology and medicine have a side effect. What are the disadvantages of this techniques? I mean you are exposing the embryo to the radiation at early stages of development. I assume it can lead to abnormalities in the later stages and may be harmful for the cockerels itself.

I am no expert in these techniques but as a common perception, I believe this can be detrimental. I would like to see authors responses to my comments and questions.

Thank you,
Sincerely,
Raghu Nandan Gurram, Ph.D.,
Process Development Scientist,
American Science & Technology (AST),
6445 Packer Drive,
Wausau, WI 54401
Phone:715-845-0200 Ext 101
Fax:312-433-3807
E-mail: rgurram@amsnt.com
www.amsnt.com
Michael Fulton (September 8, 2016 12:07 PM)
The question is if "near red" light is ionizing radiation, or has the potential to disrupt cellular growth in any way. I would think (guess) that exposing the embryo to the elements by opening the shell would be much more harmful than the near red light irradiated for the spectroscopy. The numbers suggest that there is some chance of harm by some aspect of the procedure or the number hatched would have been the same the control group.
Paul Dobrowolski (September 9, 2016 8:47 AM)
This article leaves me with a very bad taste in my mouth. While this work will make the sex sorting of chicks more efficient and minimize pain to the chick embryo, I can't help think about our treatment of the human being in the womb.
Through legal abortion in this country, a woman and her abortionist can end the life of the human fetus well after he or she can feel pain (at least if not before 20 weeks after conception). And even in some states, abortion is legal up to just before natural birth. What a sad state our country is in. We are more worried about the pain a chick feels than human beings in the womb.
On another note, the author states that chick embryos are known to feel pain at around 7 days yet we argue about when the human fetus feels pain (http://www.factcheck.org/2015/05/does-a-fetus-feel-pain-at-20-weeks/). Clearly, the understanding of the human fetus feeling pain has been politicized while the science of the chick embryo has no underlying concerns and true science takes hold. Pretty sad.
Prof. Nihal DeSilva (September 9, 2016 4:54 PM)
There is no harmful effects to the embryo by this technique as the Raman uses visible light (laser) in the 765-780 nm range! This is the advantage of using light
to detect changes in the vibrational pattern of biomolecules instead of using x'ray, etc which are damaging radiations to a growing embryo! also using a laser is an important point as its duration is very short! 10-20 sec depending on the wattage (power) used! any other Qs pl. email me. Thank you.

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