A novel approach to classifying the gender of 6-week-old turkey poults could save millions of male chicks from being killed shortly after birth, according to Dr. Gerald Steiner and his team from the Dresden University of Technology. Their use of infrared spectroscopy to determine the gender of young birds has been shown to be a fast and accurate method with the potential to allow the breeding industry to identify and select female eggs only. Numerous bird species – and nestlings and immature birds in particular – lack external sexual characteristics. Knowledge of a bird’s gender is important for poultry breeders, veterinary practitioners, aviculturists and ornithologists. For example, accurate determination of a bird’s gender is essential for proper pairing of birds, and knowing the gender of a bird allows veterinarians to diagnose gender-specific diseases. Equally, the poultry industry is interested in fast, objective and inexpensive methods for determining the sex of chickens and turkeys as early as possible – their interest lying mainly in the egg-producing female. By applying infrared spectroscopic imaging to pulp germ cells extracted from the growing contour feathers of 23 male and 23 female 6-week-old turkey poults, Steiner and his team were able to determine the gender of each bird. This technique provides direct access to the birds’ gender, as the classification is based on the genetic information contained in the cells. Their method successfully classified female and male poults with an accuracy of more than 95 percent. According to the authors of this study, the high accuracy of the classification technique demonstrates its potential as a quick and nonsubjective method for distinguishing the gender of birds even when their physical characteristics are not yet developed. “This method can also be applied to determine the gender of germ cells in a fertilized but nonbred egg or to identify nonfertilized eggs under in ovo conditions. It is the only method accurate enough that has the potential to be applied in the breeding industry to select ‘female’ eggs for breeding and to avoid the killing of millions of male chicks shortly after hatching,” the team concluded. The pilot study was recently published online in Springer’s journal Analytical and Bioanalytical Chemistry.