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CSIRO Hatches Plan for Fewer Male Chickens

by 5m Editor
25 January 2010, at 11:24a.m.

AUSTRALIA - Chickens are considered one of the most efficient ways of producing protein through both meat and eggs, and could help feed the world.

But ethical issues plague the sector, reports ABC.

World-wide, each year the egg industry sends 6 billion male chicks to their death as soon as they hatch.

The CSIRO's Tim Doran says bio-technology could help.

"Chickens have been improved to this point by using selective breeding. We're at a point where bio-technology is the next step," he says.

"There are always welfare issues. The big question for this industry is what happens to the male chicks? They don't lay eggs.

"Currently male chicks are killed at day one. It would be fantastic if we could change the system so you don't get the wastage, and you also get rid of the welfare issue."

The CSIRO, along with researchers at the University of Melbourne, are looking into sex determination in chickens.

In particular, finding out which gene is responsible for deciding if the chicken is male or female.

The University of Melbourne researchers collaborated with the CSIRO to use its RNA interference technology, which can be used to "switch genes on and off".

"They found, if you switch this one gene off in a developing male embryo, which remaining male, it develops female. So instead of two testes, it has two ovaries," says Mr Doran.

However, he admits solving one ethical dilemma sometimes creates new ones.

"It's not a genetically modified organism, there's no introduction of any new DNA. We're just switching off an existing gene," he says.

"We still need to consider the ethics of this research, but the chicken won't act any differently, so for all intensive purposes it's just a female chicken."