RESEARCHERS have used gene-editing technology to create female-only, and male-only mice litters with 100% accuracy.

The technology could have an application in the poultry sector, where male chick culling of laying hen lines is increasingly a controversial issue.

See also: Morrisons to produce insects for poultry feed on free-range egg farms

In laboratory research it is common for only one gender of, for example, mice, to be required, meaning that some animals are culled.

The new method uses a two-part genetic system to inactivate embryos shortly after fertilisation, allowing only the desired sex to develop.

It was carried out by researchers from the University of Kent and the Frances Crick institute, with a proof of principle study published in the journal Nature Communications.

‘Far-reaching implications’

Charlotte Douglas, first author and former PhD student and postdoctoral scientist at the Crick, says: “This method works as we split the genome editing process in half, between a male and female, and it is only when the two halves meet in an embryo through breeding, that it is activated.

“Embryos with both halves cannot develop beyond very early cell stages.”

Peter Ellis, author and senior lecturer in molecular genetics and reproduction at Kent, added: “The implications of this work are potentially far-reaching when it comes to improving animal welfare, but should be considered at ethical and regulatory levels.

“In particular, before any potential use in agriculture, there would need to be extensive public conversation and debate, as well as changes to legislation.”