A technology promising to determine whether an egg is fertile and whether it is male or female on the day it is laid may be ready for commercial trials in spring of 2017, according to a Canadian egg association.

On November 22, Harry Pelissero, general manager of the Egg Farmers of Ontario, told WATT Global Media the technology could be commercial available for use in hatcheries within the next 12 to 18 months.

“A number of very large organizations with significant interests in the hatching egg industry have expressed a healthy degree of skepticism in the ability of the technology to do what we say it can do,” Pelissero said in an email. “Those individuals who have had an opportunity to look closely at this technology have arrived skeptical and left acknowledging that nothing else they have seen comes close in terms of potential to disrupt existing technology and be a game changer for industry.”

The imaging technology at a glance

The technology, called Hypereye, was developed by researchers at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and is able to determine an egg’s fertility and sex the day the egg is laid. In October 2016, Egg Industry reported the technology is based on research on how a machine vision system, coupled with computer algorithms using light, could determine the sex of the embryo on the day of lay.

According to Pelissero, Hypereye uses a sophisticated, algorithm-drive analytical process to train the algorithms to calibrate the instrumentation that enables the system to accurately determine fertility and gender. It is non-intrusive, removing the risk of bacterial or fungal contamination or cross contamination between eggs. It is also stand alone and can be built into in-line processes of normal hatchery operations or elsewhere within the lay-to-hatch process.

The technology is now fully owned by MatrixSpec, a spin-off company based in Montreal, and the company has found partners to commercialize, market and sub-license the product. Hypereye’s developers have filed for a world patent on the application, which is expected to be granted in the next three months.

What’s ahead?

MatrixSpec’s partner organization, the Egg Research Development Fund (ERDF), and an unnamed company specialized in hatchery automation are working on synergistic technologies, Pelissero said. ERDF is close to making an agreement to work with the hatchery automation company to move the technology into commercial use in late 2017 or early 2018.

The developers believe the technology is ready for a prototype to be developed and employed in a commercial hatchery for real world within the coming months. A commercially available system, custom built for hatcheries will be available by early 2018, Pelissero said.

The Canadian project is one of a number of efforts being undertaken around the world to determine the sex of embryoes either before incubation starts or within the first few days of incubation. Currently, male layer chicks are euthanized after hatch. A successful in ovo system for determining the sex of embryoes could also have application for the broiler and turkey meat bird industries so that males and females could be set in incubators or hathcers separately avoding the need for manual sexing at hatch. 

Internationally, the race is on to find a commercially viable in ovo sexing technique. Activist groups are increasing scrutiny of the little known process and drawing increased pressure for the industry to end the practice.  In June, the United Egg Producers, in cooperation with an activist organization, committed to eliminate the culling of day-old chicks by 2020 or as soon as economically viable.

In late October, Vital Farms, an Austin, Texas, pasture egg company announced it has partnered with Novatrans, an Israeli technology company, to produce a technology – TeraEgg – that can end the practice of chick culling. It joins a number of other researchers looking for a viable technique.