Hatchlings to put emu ‘gender reveal’ to the test

A new technique that could end the gender guessing game for emu and the endangered Southern Cassowary has been put to the test at USC, with the hatching of 10 fluffy chicks.

USC PhD candidate Clancy Hall, supervised by Dr Gabriel Conroy, has been working on a way to determine genetic sex in the notoriously dark and thickly-shelled eggs of the emu, and she’s getting close to an answer.

Clancy Hall, PhD candidate and emu hatchlings.
Clancy Hall, PhD candidate and emu hatchlings.

“It comes down to a new way we use light on the eggshell to illuminate a blood vessel from which a small blood sample is taken for DNA analysis,” Ms Hall said.

“By learning the gender of emus or cassowary ahead of time, we are able to ethically hatch a desired sex. This will help maintain sustainable captive breeding populations to act as insurance for their wild counterparts.” 

In particular, she hopes the work will assist in the fight to protect the endangered Southern Cassowary and threatened Coastal Emu.

“There are only 40 to 100 Coastal Emus in Central and Northern New South Wales, so this technique could help build a robust captive insurance population to later return to improved areas of wild habitat,” Ms Hall said.

“Conservation management requires strategy to maximise the sustainability of the population. In captivity, the recommended ratio for cassowary is one female to two males so she can select a preferred mate, so the goal is to ethically hatch a desired sex to provide her that option.”