The evolution of the shell-less chicken. Video: Sofa King Sick/YouTube
It's an age-old question: Which came first—the chicken, the egg, or the chicken that was experimentally hatched without an eggshell by high school students in Chiba, Japan?
We may never know the answer, but at least there is now delightful video evidence of the latter scenario. The clip chronicles a school project led by biology teacher Yutaka Tahara, who has been testing out techniques to incubate fertilized chicken eggs without their shells for years. This process allows students to watch the embryonic growth of chicks without having to crack an egg, which kills the developing fetus.
In Tahara's experiment, eggs are broken and deposited into clear sterile containers, artificially fertilized, and left to develop at warm temperatures. Supplemental nutrients like calcium are supplied to aid their growth, and their progress is monitored over the course of about three weeks, from the first inklings of a heartbeat to the fully developed baby bird.
According a 2014 paper published in the Journal of Poultry Science, which is co-authored by Tahara, the success rate for this shell-less method of hatching chicks hovers around 60 percent. The paper notes that incubating chicks in this exposed manner could have implications not just for education, but for "the efficient generation of transgenic chickens, embryo manipulations, tissue engineering, and basic studies in regenerative medicine."
As endearing as the video is, though, it does not have all its facts straight. This is definitely not the first time that chicks have been hatched without eggs as claimed by the team. In fact, it's not even the first time Tahara has starred in a YouTube segment about the technique. Check out this gem from 2013:
Shell-less chicken, redux. Video: 酒井直哉/YouTube
In any case, it's awesome to watch the tiny birds develop in their transparent makeshift eggs while the enthusiastic students look on.