An AgTech startup in New Zealand, Engender Technologies has created a new microfluidic and photonic technology to sort livestock sperm by sex to enrich X chromosome-bearing bull sperm cells.
The new technology uses lasers to orient sperm cells and look inside those sperm cells as well as separate them based on the presence of an X or a Y chromosome. In contrast to the industry’s standard practice of using an electric charge and field in the artificial insemination process, Engender’s technology uses a wavelength of light to sort cells-on-a-chip. The company believes this will reduce the negative impact on the fertility rate of sperm cells sorted through its system and give dairy farmers great control over offspring.
Engender has raised a total of $6 Million in equity funding including $4.5 Million Series A in 2016. Investors include Pacific Channel, New Zealand Venture Investment Fund, and several angel investment groups. Engender has also received more than $10 million from the New Zealand government in grant funding.
“New Zealand, with its strong farming traditions, is producing some world-leading agri-technology companies,” said Richard Dellabarca, CEO, New Zealand Venture Investment Fund. “Engender Technologies is a spin-off from the University of Auckland. It is commercializing microfluidic and photonic technology to improve sorting of sperm by sex for the trillion dollar livestock market, and is building its funding platform to accelerate its development.”
A reduction in fertility has a substantial impact where farmers don’t use hormones to prolong a cow’s milking, which is the majority of markets, as cows must calve each year to continue lactating. According to Engender, this is particular to pasture-based dairy systems because a pregnancy must occur within a narrow window for the calves to be born in the spring months. When a farmer wants to expand their herd, fertility reductions impact growth of the herd.
“Engender has an opportunity to substantially reduce the cost of production regarding requiring less capital cost, offering increased fertility rates and the opportunity for artificial insemination companies to introduce competitive pricing into the industry,” added Dellabarca.
The company signed a $1 Million deal with Asia’s biggest animal genetics company in March 2017. In 2016, Engender won an AgFunder Innovation award and the Ag-Tech Sector of the World Cup Tech Challenge in Silicon Valley.