May 4, 2016: ONCE received a notice of allowance on its application from the patent 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 only be achieved by either genetically modifying the organism (GMO) or injecting it with potentially harmful hormones.
“Vertebrates employ varied strategies, both chromosomal and non-chromosomal, to determine the sex of the developing embryo,” explains Zdenko Grajcar, founder and CEO at ONCE. “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.
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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 which is based on relatively inexpensive, narrow band light emitting diodes,” says Grajcar.
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, in the egg laying operation only female chickens are desired. Because males and females are born at an approximate 51/49 sex ratio, approximately half of all avian born at such operations are unproductive.
On the other side, in the broiler industry, male chickens are more desirable because of significantly faster growth compared to females. Similar scenarios apply to commercial aquaculture and possibly other markets outside of animal production, including horticulture. ONCE is the process of conducting large scale commercial trials and is expecting to release related technologies in late 2016.