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    Date submitted
  • 15-Jan-2018

Engender Technologies

Abstract

There is an unmet market need in the international animal breeding industry for an affordable and effective sperm sex sorting product. Engender has developed a technology that can separate X- and Y-bearing bull sperm cells that is expected to be at low cost and to cause minimal discernible damage to the cells. Sex sorting is expected to accelerate genetic gain and improve cost efficiencies in large animal reproduction.

Video

Original Vimeo URL: Open

Introduction Video

Additional Questions

Who is your customer?

Artificial insemination / animal genetics companies are our primary customers. They would use our technology to produce sex-sorted semen. Dairy and beef is our first target, with porcine close behind. The end-users for the sex-sorted sperm are farmers. Engender has signed option-to-license agreements with three of the world’s largest artificial insemination (AI) companies, which are providing significant resources to assist Engender. One has made an investment commitment of NZ$1.5m and another is providing Engender with $1m in upfront payments.

What problem does this idea/product solve or what market need does it serve?

A rising demand for beef and dairy products around the world means that both industries are faced with the challenge of increasing production. Although artificial insemination is widely used throughout the dairy industry for selection of commercially valuable traits, to date it is not widely used to maximize reproduction efficiency through providing sex preference because of cost and fertility issues – factors that Engender’s technology is designed to overcome. Cost-effective sex selection technology enables farmers to select for females for the top portion of their herd, doubling the rate of genetic gain and generating greater milk production with increased efficiencies. By improving feed to milk production and milk output per cow, sex selection presents a mechanism to sustainably increase food production with minimal environmental impact. As the land cannot sustainably support further expansion of dairy herds in many countries, sex selected semen is expected to provide significant global benefits. Further, sex selected bovine semen presently is not widely available in developing countries due to the high cost. Widespread adoption of Engender’s low-cost technology could lead to a significant increase in milk production in the developing world, where the milk output per cow is low due to poor genetics. For example, in India, milk output per cow is 8-fold lower than the US. Increases in genetic gain could generate a sustainable additional ~12 billion daily servings of milk per year in India, with no increase in the number of cows. Sex selection would enable farmers in India to select for productive cows, significantly increasing productivity. Finally, male calves born with dairy genetics are otherwise less valuable for slaughter for meat, particularly in pasture-based dairy farms. Approximately 2 million bobby calves are culled in New Zealand alone each year. The practice of culling bobby calves at a very early age is increasingly unacceptable and inefficient. Our partners believe that Western market farmers would change this practice, if they have access to low cost, effective sex-selected semen. Dairy farmers could then inseminate the bottom half of their herd with beef genetics, improving bobby calf beef values and thereby provide additional income through their sale to beef farms or their retention.

What attributes will make this idea/product successful? Why do you believe that those features will create success?

Engender Technologies was founded to provide a less expensive, more reliable source of sex-selected semen for the agriculture sector. The solution we devised exploits a high-tech integrated microfluidics and fiber-based photonics, combining gentle cell handling with lower-cost manufacturing approaches. The only existing sex sorting technology utilises fluorescence-activated cell sorting, a flow cytometry method. Sperm sorted using this technique experience significant shear forces and electrostatic fields, which reduces the viability of the sorted sperm. In addition, high numbers of healthy sperm are discarded in order to keep the fidelity of the sex-sorting high (high % X- or Y-bearing sperm). Engender’s design is expected to achieve high efficiency and high accuracy sperm sex sorting with maximum viability and therefore maximum expected fertility. The chip based approach will allow for highly parallel processing to achieve high throughput, higher cell counts to improve fertilization, and higher purity to improve sex selection. The chip is a single-use, consumable to avoid contamination of genetic material and/or pathogens. This approach provides Engender with a recurring revenue stream. The new instrument is expected to have 5-10 fold less capital cost than the current technology. The competitor system currently costs up to 1-million dollars per machine, and requires a dedicated lab facility and highly specialised staff. In contrast, Engender’s approach more integrated with the artificial insemination partner processes and business directions. In short, Engender is anticipated to provide a superior product for less cost, strengthened by strongly positive customer relationships.

Explain how you (your team) will execute to make this idea/product successful? What gives you (your team) an advantage over others already in the market or new to this market?

Engender Technologies is comprised of strong, cross-disciplinary team of scientists, engineers and commercialisation expertise. Our Board of Directors and International Science Advisory Board have demonstrated success, both breadth and depth, in commercialising start up ventures in the biotech and agtech spaces. The R&D team is co-located within the Photon Factory at the University of Auckland, a vibrant, collaborative research facility with state-of-the art photonics and microfluidics capacity. This provides excellent access to equipment and the right areas of expertise, as the product develops new directions and applications. While the key advantages of Engender over the incumbent in the market are associated with our product (less expensive, higher fertility, higher cell retention rates), the approach Engender takes to working with our artificial insemination customers provides us with invaluable advantages in developing market knowledge and expertise. The strength of these relationships are evident in the formal partnerships already extant (see above), and continued growth in this space. Engender has achieved its first target of unifying its individual proven separate steps, initially on multiple separate devices, into one laboratory prototype microfluidic chip and its second target of reliable enrichment of X-chromosome bearing bull sperm cells. Engender is progressing the development of its system in parallel with assistance from a product and instrument and development firm to optimise the reliability, cell retention, sorting rate and enrichment of its system. Within 12 months, Engender expects to develop a self-contained commercial prototype instrument using OEM commercial grade equipment that is suitable to facilitate the first field trial. Field trials are expected to be provided by Engender’s three AI partners at no cost to Engender. Within 18-24 months, Engender expects to develop a benchtop commercial instrument and a commercial microfluidic chip, that are able to achieve commercially acceptable sorting of bovine sperm cells, both suitable for mass production.