Or, Star Trek comes to the farm gate. A boost to dairy income. Reducing unnecessary culling of bobby calves. No matter how you look at it, Engender Technologies is very cool.
Here’s the problem. When dairy cows are inseminated with unprocessed semen, they produce roughly half and half males and females. Heifer (female) calves can fetch twice as much as bobby (male) calves on the market, in fact many bobby calves are culled from the herd.
Engender uses laser photonics to detect the mass difference between X and Y chromosomes, and sorts bull semen into male and female sperm. The sorted sperm is then used to inseminate cows to produce a much higher proportion of heifer calves, resulting in higher value for dairy farmers, and providing the ability to breed only from the top half of their herd with the highest breeding worth for dairy replacements. This should enhance the rate of genetic gain of a herd.
Engender Technologies began when rockstar scientist Dr Cather Simpson, the Director of Auckland University’s Photon Factory, learned that being able to select the sex of calves was one of the five biggest problems facing the dairy industry. She worked with Brent Ogilvie‘s team at Pacific Channel to begin development a lab prototype sorter, the business end of which lives mostly on a single chip. Early results are promising.
The global market for sorting dairy semen is estimated at over USD 1.5B, and although there is one competitor, it is much less effective and more expensive than the Engender solution. The team is talking to major players worldwide, and has significant interest.
They’re currently raising an angel round to conduct IVF and field trials, and develop a commercial prototype.
I’d love to see more startups in New Zealand based on hard science that builds on our core economic competencies. Kiwis are good generalists, but we could be much better at capitalising on areas where we have very specialist skills. We have one of the strongest dairy industries in the world, and it’s great to see people like Cather and Brent taking the bull by the horns (and other anatomical regions), and commercialising our top-of-class science and technology prowess with our world-beating agricultural capability.