Genetic Modification, Coming to a Chicken Near You

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    Male chickens, or roosters, are often an undesirable acquisition. Since they do not lay eggs and can be quite aggressive, many producers would rather not deal with having more than one around. Because of this, there are many roosters sentenced to death every year. The means by which this is done can be quite awful and terribly painful for the roosters, which are usually killed around a day or so old, as soon are they are sexed.

    It is unfortunate to be born male if you are a chicken. Since females have so much more to offer in terms of laying eggs, males are simply discarded. This is harsh, but it is fact. While a lot of us may try to give a rooster hatched on our farms a chance at life, commercial producers cannot say the same. It is expensive for them to incubate eggs, and to them, a rooster is a business loss and must be done away with immediately.

    Charles Sturt University (CSU) in Australia is making an effort to combat the culling of male birds. If they are successful, the males will still be done away with, but their disposal will come sooner and be less painful according to their claims. The way they plan to achieve this is by genetically engineering chickens. The researchers at CSU intend to introduce a protein that will make the skin of a female chicken glow green under ultraviolet light. The goal is to take a protein found in jellyfish and introduce it into chicken DNA via the sex chromosome. At the Animal Biosciences and Biotechnology Lab of the United Stated Department of Agriculture (USDA) in Maryland, DNA constructs with the glowing gene are soon to be inserted into the sperm of a rooster. It will then be artificially inseminated into hens in hopes it will pass the fluorescent green gene onto the offspring, resulting in a genetically modified chicken.

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    Should the fluorescent protein passage work, the sex of a chick will be determinable even before hatching. By holding an ultraviolet light up to a whole, intact egg, a green glow is expected to be visible through the egg shell. If there is no green glow, the egg is male and will not be allowed to incubate, thus saving producers the 21 day wait to find out if eggs are female and useful or male and disposable.

    Whether or not this project is successful depends on two things. The first of which is whether it will work or not, and the second is public acceptance. With so much negativity surrounding genetic modification of foods such as vegetables, it is hard to expect people to rally behind adding genetically modified chicken to their grocery lists. If genetic modification comes to a chicken near you, will you eat it? This is sure to result in a division between consumers and those who stand to make a financial gain, but the real question is one of which is better, culling roosters or tampering with the genetics of animals? It is a tough call as neither of these two choices seems good or fair, and only time will tell us which choice will prevail.

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