Israeli start-up Soos developed a technique to alter the sex of embryos from male to female in the hatchery.
Every year, the global egg industry produces 15 billion chicks. Half of them are female and grow up to be functional layers, but the other 7.5 billion are males and are culled, leading not only to major ethical and animal welfare concerns, but also to lost revenue and missed potential.
As increasingly more countries are banning the culling of male chicks and the worldwide egg production increases, finding a solution to end this controversial practice is becoming more and more of a hot topic for the poultry industry. Soos CEO Yael Alter tells Poultry World how Soos hopes to contribute to a more sustainable future for the egg industry.
“We raised our first funds in early 2017, and the first thing we did was to establish our own full site,” Alter says. Coming from the industry, Alter is no stranger to building poultry housing, which was instrumental in the start-up’s first days: “We built a small commercial hatchery of 5000 eggs, then we went on to build a pullet house and retrofitted the coops. We had a layer house of 80,000 birds – which is big, by Israeli standards – and now, we have the full cycle,” she says. Because of their focus on sound vibration, Soos’s incubators are very quiet. “The first thing we discovered is that you can actually sit next to the incubators, which is wonderful, because incubators are usually very loud, which isn’t very healthy for those working with those machines,” Alter adds. “3 incubators are currently operating, and it’s quiet. You don’t hear any noise.
“We developed an acoustic cell so that we could measure the sound inside of the incubator,” Alter explains. “Our next goal is to run pilots outside of Israel because our ability to grow here is a bit limited. We need more professional integration to scale up what we are doing here.”
“Most companies that focus on the problem of culling male chicks are doing sex detection by means of embryonic scanning in the first couple of days. From an animal welfare perspective, you would need to destroy the egg before the 7th day, and this is very challenging,” Alter explains. Instead of detecting whether an egg is male or female, Soos’s technology transforms genetic males into functioning females, thereby not only addressing concerns about animal welfare, but also tapping into the missed potential of the egg industry, as egg-sexing still involves the destruction of 50% of the production.
Furthermore, some other innovations work by genetic modification of the parent stock, which is not accepted in many places in the world. “We are not using any kind of chemical that will affect the eggs; instead, we transform the embryo through sound vibration and through changing the environmental conditions in the incubator. It is well known that sound affects cells, as this technology is also used in medicine and even in cancer treatment. This is precisely what we are doing: we are affecting the cells and thereby defining the sex of the embryos,” Alter explains. So far, Soos has achieved a 60% female hatching rate. They hope this percentage will increase to 80% in the coming years.
“Of course, we did DNA testing to prove our concept and to explain what we are doing, and so we found out that we have females with ZZ (male) chromosomes,” Alter explains. “One of our goals for 2021 is to do more research, we have some partners in mind to do so on an academic front. We want to research how sound vibrations affect the cell culture and for that, our facility is not enough. We need an institute to help us with that.”
“Due to the coronavirus, our pilots outside of Israel have been slowed down, but we hope to target Europe in the near future, followed by the US,” Alter continues. “Our main goal for the near future is to run more pilots outside of Israel, which will help us to improve our hatching protocol and get better results than we are getting now. In the future, I see Soos as living in the poultry industry. I think the ability to reassign sex will change the world.”