While it is obviously beneficial to publicize and promote scientific advances which may be beneficial to livestock production or human health, premature publicity and unrealistic claims may raise false expectations.

The latest example concerns a press release from the CSIRO in Australia. Researchers at the Murdoch Children’s Research Institute, University of Melbourne in conjunction with biochemists at the CSIRO Livestock Industries Australian Animal Health Laboratory investigated the mechanism of sex determination in chickens.

Applying an RNA interference technique, a specific gene DMRT1 was inactivated in early-stage chicken embryos. Preventing protein expression coded by DMRT1 leads to feminization of the embryonic gonads in genetically male embryos. The males undergo partial sex reversal characterized by changes in the gonads. The left gonad when examined microscopically shows female-like structures together with vestigial testicular tissue. The feminized right gonad shows germ cells characteristic of the female pattern within the male gonad.

All that the research demonstrated is that genetically male embryos, representing the homogametic sex are in fact ZZ and that the development of the reproductive tract is associated with the DMRT1 gene.

In a press release by the CSIRO a spokesperson has hyped the academic finding into a solution for the apparent problem of disposal of male chicks at the commercial egg production level. The comment, “currently male chicks are killed at day one. It would be fantastic if we could change the systems so you don’t get the wastage, and you also get rid of the welfare issue,” is gratuitous and self-serving.

Even if the gene modulation approach were possible, males would be infertile since they would possess what is evidently a pair of ovotestes which would render them incapable of developing an ovum and there would be no development of an ovo duct necessary for the production of an egg. Misrepresenting a highly specific scientific finding and extending the implications to encompass welfare creates false and unfounded anticipation among consumers.

During past years false claims have been made for chicken-related research leading to imminent treatment of malignant tumors, treating osteoporosis and metabolic diseases.

Basic research should be evaluated by scientists and appropriate publicity can be published only when appropriate in the media. Distorting findings and making unsubstantiated claims in an attempt to engender fame or attract funding is counterproductive. The poultry industry and consumers benefit from basic and applied research when translated into improved productivity, sustainability or quality.

Speculation and hype do not advance either science or the image of producers.