Case studies - Annual Report 2018

News & events

Case studies - Annual Report 2018

8 April, 2019

Science entrepreneurship delivers solutions

Professor Cather Simpson

Engender Ltd was formed by MacDiarmid Institute Principal Investigator and University of Auckland Professor Cather Simpson in 2011 to provide a solution to the problem dairy farmers have of selecting the sex of their calves. It’s a pressing unmet need – in 2017, 1.77 million four-day-old bobby calves were sent to the freezing works, making farmers and the dairy industry the target of bitter criticism by animal welfare groups.

The company pioneered new techniques to sex semen, using high-tech microfluidic and photonic chips that sort sperm by sex. After a seven year journey in which the company raised over $5M to fund technology development and won the Agtech category of the prestigious 2016 Silicon Valley Forum Tech World Cup, in November 2018 the company was acquired by animal genetics company CRV International for an undisclosed sum.

Professor Simpson said the R&D team operating out of the University of Auckland were “over the moon” with the deal with an international leader in the livestock industry because it would accelerate translating the technology to benefit farmers.

Kiwi farmers will not be the only ones to benefit from the technology. In India because of the “sacred cow” principle, farmers have to keep all cattle for their natural life, whether they provide an income or not, a situation that would ease if they could select the animal’s sex. The R&D will continue to be carried out here in New Zealand, a win-win for both our primary and high-tech industries.

Fundamental science feeds pipeline of high impact technologies

MacDiarmid Institute Principal Investigator and Massey University Professor Shane Telfer is a materials chemist and global research leader in the field of Metal Organic Frameworks (MOFs).

MOFs are tiny crystals full of holes which are widely used to capture gases out of the atmosphere. This family of materials serve vital but invisible roles in industry and there is a huge interest in discovering new and better MOFs to enhance industrial efficiency and sustainability.

Professor Telfer has established an international reputation and a wide range of industry partnerships. “While my group focuses on deep science, at the same time we are looking to identify and commercialise new materials. We have one such opportunity emerging now from PhD student Omid Taheri. We developed a material with surprisingly good properties for the selective capture of a greenhouse gas.

With the assistance of the MacDiarmid Institute and our university enterprise support, we have filed a provisional patent with IP Australia, and we are developing a business plan to map the multiple potential routes to market. It’s the only way to ensure that society capture the full benefits of our research.”