gender-testing machine
The machine for the fully automatic determination of the gender of chicken eggs.

Evonik has made a follow-up investment in the biotechnology start-up, In Ovo, through its venture capital unit. The investment comes as the young company reaches the commercialisation stage for its technology and brings its gender-testing machine for eggs to the market.

Together with co-investor, VisVires New Protein Capital, Evonik Venture Capital has provided several million euros in additional funding. Evonik Venture Capital first invested in the Dutch company based in Leiden in 2018, providing support for the technology to solve one of the egg industry’s greatest ethical challenges.

“In Ovo has reached a crucial milestone with the successful upscaling of its unique gender-testing machine,” said Bernhard Mohr, head of Evonik Venture Capital. “Since we first invested and partnered with In Ovo in 2018, the ethical problem of culling chicks has gained attention and calls for a solution have become louder.”

gender-testing machine
In Ovo founders, Gründer Wouter Bruins (right) and Wil Stutterheim (left).

The German government has now introduced legislation mandating that no chicks be culled after 1 January 2022. In Germany alone, an estimated 40 million day-old male chicks from laying-hen hatcheries are killed annually, and the global figure is thought to be about 6,5 billion. Poultry farms do not rear male animals because they can neither lay eggs nor grow sufficiently for meat production.

Determining the gender of an egg

In Ovo developed a method for determining the gender in the egg that is particularly fast and reliable and can be readily integrated into the workflow of large hatcheries. Since December, Ovo’s first gender-testing machine has been screening eggs at high speed in a commercial hatchery. The first 150 000 chicks, which will produce more than 50 million eggs in their lifetime, have been hatched without any culling.

“With Evonik’s support, In Ovo brings its proven technology to the market at exactly the right time,” said Emmanuel Auer, head of Evonik’s Animal Nutrition business line. “The co-operation with In Ovo fosters animal protein supply to retail, thus helping the stakeholders in the value chain to achieve their own goals for sustainability.”

gender-testing machine
The machine for the fully automatic determination of the gender of chicken eggs.

Comparing technologies on the market, In Ovo is best placed to meet the demands for a combination of early and fast testing, which hatcheries need. In Ovo can identify the gender of eggs by day nine after incubation starts and is working towards earlier identification. The German government’s recent legislation foresees that as of 2024, testing for gender in the egg must occur no later than day six. Currently, no technology on the market can identify gender this early.

Continuous improvement

“We are continuously improving our technology on speed, accuracy, and day of testing,” said Wouter Bruins, co-founder and one of the managing directors of In Ovo. “I’m confident that we are well placed to meet market and regulatory demands.”

In Ovo was founded in 2013 by Bruins, a biologist, and biomedical scientist Wil Stutterheim, who met at the University of Leiden. The technology is based on a biomarker identified by the founders. This allows the gender of embryos in the egg to be accurately determined during incubation. For this purpose, a tiny hole is made in the egg and resealed. A sample is taken and examined by mass spectrometry for the biomarker identified by In Ovo, which has been patented. – Press release, Evonik