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Breeding the Animals You Need

Developing the next generation genetic tools to reduce inhumane practices

Unbeknownst to most, it is estimated that around 600,000 male calves are killed on dairy farms every year when they are just a week old. “Dairy farms need female cows to produce milk but with little demand for male calves many farmers can’t afford to keep them beyond birth”, as stated in the The Guardian. Similarly, this practice affects other livestock, including over 7 billion, day-old male chicks that are culled each year for their inability to lay eggs.

For decades, a large proportion of our protein production has been produced in this manner. Such questionable human-animal relations have led to untold suffering for livestock. Furthermore, as world population powers ahead to 9.7 billion by 2050, leading to a rise in demand for food by 70% from today’s levels, and with farming costs set to continue to increase alongside other industry costs, farmers will have no choice but to become more economical to survive. It is therefore imperative that we utilize human ingenuity to stem these practices.

Around 600,000 male calves are killed on dairy farms every year when they are just a week old.

Co-founded in 2021 in Tel Aviv by Yaniv Dolev, a veterinary surgeon and seasoned entrepreneur with over 15 years of experience in founding start- ups, include founding Moebius Medical in 2008, which culminated in an exclusive global licensing deal with Sun Pharma in December 2016, Cody Genetics offers a solution to increase the efficiencies of farming, reduce the need for gender culling, and thereby promote animal well-being by enabling farmers to produce more for less resources.

Cody Genetics’ unique technology uses genetic editing tools to create bulls and boars that can ejaculate sexed semen to breed the animals that are needed by farmers today, contributing to more sustainable animal production, increasing breeding companies’ income, and improving animal health altogether. Importantly, the offspring of those breeders are not gene-edited and do not carry any foreign DNA, and therefore fully comply with EU and other global regulations.

Cody Genetics Gene Editing Graphic

Image courtesy of Cody Genetics

Cody Genetics uses the CRISPR-Cas9 technology, the Nobel 2020 winning invention, to edit genes in an innovative and proprietary manner. The first generation was highlighted by editors of a peer review scientific journal that described their approach as an important step toward generating sex-ratio biasing applications for agriculture.

The technology was developed by Professor Udi Qimron, Dr. Ido Yosef, and Dr. Motti Gerlic of the Department of Clinical Microbiology and Immunology at Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine, revealing a genetic ability in mammals that can produce only females. A similar system based on identical principles could produce only males, if desired. Cody Genetics has partnered with Tel Aviv University, SION (Israeli Company for Artificial Insemination & Breeding Ltd), and is working with scientists from Roslin Technologies in Scotland, a world leader in animal science and genetics, to further develop this promising technology in livestock.

Benefits of using Cody Genetics’ technology

Cody Genetics Benefits Graphic

Image courtesy of Cody Genetics

The company’s vision is to build a global network of veterinary embryology laboratories that will supply genetic and genomic support to animal breeding companies. Thus, Cody Genetics’ ability to influence the sex of livestock is an enormous scientific leap forward to increase these efficiencies, whilst also addressing the inhumane but-often-hushed animal welfare challenges in practice today. The company aligns with SDGs 2 – Zero Hunger, 12 – Responsible Consumption and Production, and 15 – Life on Land.

According to the FAO, livestock contributes 40% of the global value of agricultural output and supports the livelihoods and nutritional security of 1.3 billion people. With this in mind, it is unrealistic to expect this industry to grind to a halt in the face of environmental degradation. Instead, we must work in partnership with longer term solutions by addressing the here and now of the industry. The work of Cody Genetics shines a light towards a more ethical method of livestock production.

The current solution of the cattle breeding industry is the mechanical sorter. This machine sorts the cattle sperm and female straws can be obtained. However, this solution is expensive and reduce dramatically the semen yield. This solution is not applicable at all in swine breeding due to the large volume of boars’ ejaculate. In addition, the low-quality semen is not acceptable by the farmers.

Market trend for cattle sexed semen

Market Trend for Cattle Sexed Semen

Genus plc; Results presentation Dec 2019

Source: Genus plc; Results presentation Dec 2019

The market trend for cattle sexed semen in cattle is growing by 56% globally per annum and is exceeding expectations. Cody Genetics is directly challenging the current industry practice which typically sorts sperm cells using flow cytometry. It is expensive, not 100% accurate, has a low rate of conception, and the flow cytometer cannot sort the boar sperm. The gene- editing technology offered by Cody technology is much more efficient. For example, the earnings per bull can be increased 4-10 times from approximately $200,000-300,000 to $2,500,000/bull. In the swine industry, Cody Genetics addresses a huge unmet need that today has not had any solution other than the soon-to-become illegal piglet castration practice without anaesthesia.

Cody Genetics will edit the embryo in a way that the future bulls and boars will be able to ejaculate already sexed semen that have the same quality and quantity of spermatozoids as normal semen. The elegance of this approach is the offspring of those breeders will not carry any gene edits or foreign DNA and therefore considered identical to naïve animals.

Cody’s business model is to become a service company receiving sperm and oocytes from breeding companies’ elite animals. Cody creates single sex producing embryos from this material and either ship the edited embryo back to the breeding company or produces a full- grown animal and ships them back to the breeding company. The revenue will be generated via royalties. According to Cody Genetics, the total available market potential is up to $3 billion for cattle and pigs.

Cody Genetics Total Available Market Graphic

Image courtesy of Cody Genetics

Cody Genetics is in the middle of a seed round through the support of Milltrust International, Roslin Technologies, UK Innovation & Science Seed Fund and two leading strategic future customers. The participation of Roslin in the round is particularly significant through its validation of the science that was developed at the Tel Aviv University. The participation of future clients validate both unmet needs and the company’s business model.

The author of this article is a partner at Milltrust International.

Alexander Kalis is the Managing Partner and co-founder of Milltrust International LLP, a London and Singapore-based investment manager focused on ‘Sustainable Prosperity’, where he manages The Climate Impact Asia Fund in partnership with WWF-Hong Kong, The British Innovation Fund, focused on University science and technology ventures, and Sustainable Agriculture funds.

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