Pioneering Animal DNA

As an early pioneer in the determination of exotic bird genders, Dr. Joy Halverson’s inital attempts to apply DNA science was met with skepticism in the bird world.  She and her husband (a genetics professor at U.C. Davis) finally found an ally in Nicholas Turkey Breeding Farms of Sonoma, California. At that time, they were the recognized American experts in turkey genetics, and could see the potential in learning more about turkey DNA.

“Thankfully, the Turkey farm agreed to fund our pilot project at U.C. Davis, and I learned to work with DNA.

The turkey folks were interested in how the DNA was organized, and how they could use it to breed better turkeys. We were successful in finding chunks of DNA on the sex chromosomes that worked for determining bird genders, so with the blessing of U.C. Davis, my husband and I started Zoogen in 1990, to work on turkeys and offer DNA sexing services to exotic bird owners, breeders and zoos.

DNA science isn’t cheap and you couldn’t do it in your garage.

In those early days it involved the use of radioactivity and nasty chemicals.  I took out a loan, bought equipment at auctions, and put together our first laboratory.  It didn’t take long before the advantages of using DNA for bird sexing were clear, and Zoogen steadily grew.

It took a big leap in the 1990s, thanks to the sudden but short-lived popularity of ostrich and emu farming. When Nicholas Turkeys decided to take their work in-house, we were already independently viable and ready to grow on our own steam.