Latest Claim for Pre-Incubation Separation of Male and Female Embryos

Nov 4, 2016


Novatrans, a privately-held company, nominally based in Herzliya Pitua, Israel but is apparently operating out of Switzerland has emerged as a source of gender separation technology. Novatrans is the source of a claim to apply spectroscopic technology capable of distinguishing between eggs bearing either male or female embryos before initiation of incubation.


The Novatrans Group emerged from the prestigious Weitzman Institute, the MIT of Israel, through a technology transfer incubator, Yeda Research. Novatrans specializes in applying terahertz radiation to communications, medical imaging and other sophisticated electronic applications.

They have developed a new generation photo-nano vacuum tube transistor, among other innovations. It is unclear how this relates to a practical and economically feasible method to identify eggs bearing male embryos obviating destruction of cockerel chicks since there is no mention of this application on the Novatrans website which is generally sparse in detail. It is intended to promote the technology in the U.S. through a newly established entity Ovabrite LLC, a subsidiary of Vital Farms. 

In a Sunday October 30th discussion with the principals of both these U.S. entities, it was not possible to elicit any details regarding the specific biological and physical principles to determine gender as the process has not apparently been patented.  There are no publications on the technology so it is impossible at this stage to evaluate whether it has any potential to become a commercial reality.

Despite the claims made for Ramen spectroscopy in Germany and now terahertz spectroscopy from Israel, commercialization for the limited number of U.S. hatcheries distributing layer-strain pullets will certainly be delayed for many years. Investment in resources and time will be required to refine equipment, increase specificity of detection, scale-up from laboratory levels of throughput and to ensure compatibility with existing breeder hatcheries.

The initial claims made by promoters of competing gender detection technologies can be characterized by Eliza Doolittle who sings “Don’t say a word-- just show me!” in My Fair Lady. It would be of value to the industry and other stakeholders to have some detail concerning the biological basis of the technology and proof of concept before promotors embark on premature and unsubstantiated publicity or raising funds. Generally if an innovation appears just too good to be true it is often just that. After all we have just witnessed the $100 million implosion and demise of Theranos, an expensive exercise in self-delusion which offered multiple clinical assays from a single pin-prick of blood.

The danger of premature press releases on gender separation relates to the reality that welfare organizations and especially those opposed to intensive livestock production will demand implementation without delay irrespective of whether the system may or may not be effective or commercially viable. The second problem is that the promise of a “miracle fix just around the corner” will delay introduction of humane, simple and inexpensive, anoxic stun-to-kill processing using carbon dioxide gas.

Information in the Ovabrite press release suggests that an annual value of $440 million could be recovered from eggs bearing male embryos.  This claim defies reality given the requirements of post-lay refrigeration and prevailing prices for breaking stock. It is estimated that the 20 million dozen eggs with male embryos produced each year would be worth $3 million if they could enter the liquid egg chain for human food. In reality they would be diverted at best to rendering for animal feed with a recovery of less than $1 million. The broiler breeder segment would add about $500,000 if all six million dozen non-required eggs were diverted to breaking for human food and proportionally less for animal feed.

If Novatrans is intent on capturing a large segment of the U.S. industry for their TeraEgg terahertz spectroscopy they would be well advised to present reliable data from independent experts as to specificity and cost. To be commercialized the U.S. promotors would have to establish a relationship with the few significant primary breeders, If the system is technically and financially viable, equipment will have to be supplied on a royalty basis as with in ovo vaccination and infra-red beak treatment installations.

There is disappointment that media, including poultry periodicals and websites simply reproduce unsubstantiated press releases from companies and promotors without evaluation or comment. This is lazy non-journalism and serves neither the industry nor the consumer.

I sincerely hope that Ovabrite-Novatrans has a viable technology—we need it. Until they come up with firm data and costs the enterprise must be characterized as speculative and unproven and may just raise false hopes.