Day in the (Grad School) Life: White eggs, brown eggs [updated with results]

[Updated 2/7/13. Click here to skip to results of the hatch] So, I work in a chicken lab.*

What this involves:

  • a weekly delivery of fertilized eggs from a farm located in California's Central Valley;
  • storing the egg delivery in a wine fridge set to 55 degrees celsius
  • two times a week, placing a set of fertilized eggs in an industrial incubator for 3 weeks
  • waiting for a cheeping flock to chicks to hatch

When I first joined my lab, we exclusively used white eggs - ones hatched by white leghorns.

Picture of a white egg

In recent months however, the farm has been sending us eggs that look like this:

Clearly, these are not eggs hatched by a white leghorn (leghorn eggs are described as "pearl white" Source: Henderson's Chicken Breed Chart).

Now, I guess I could go to the internet, and carefully research the egg coloration/patterns of common chicken breeds. If I did that, I would probably be able to narrow down the potential breed of chicken currently growing inside the eggs pictured above. But that would be boring.**

Instead, I'm waiting until Wednesday, when the first batch of mystery brown eggs is scheduled to hatch. I'm betting the chicks in the uniformly brown eggs are either Rhode Islands, the most common layer of brown eggs. As for the speckled eggs, they may be eggs laid by the same breed as the uniformly brown eggs, or they could represent an additional breed.


Will all the chicks be the same breed, despite the range in egg coloration? What will that breed be? I'll be finding out (hopefully) on Wednesday.

In conclusion, to quote a post-doc with whom I've been discussing our inability to acquire white eggs: "Aw yeah science!"


*Technically, I'm a senior graduate student in the lab of Dr. Eric Knudsen, studying neural mechanisms underlying visual attention in the avian optic tectum. For the historical minded: Eric's lab has a long history of working with another avian model, the barn owl. In recent years, the focus in his lab has begun to shift to work in chickens. Yes, the barn owl is a much more majestic bird than the chicken. **For the scientific aspects of my research, it doesn't really matter what breed of chicken I'm using. Yes, it would be more elegant to use only one breed of bird, but doing experiments with brown eggs is better than not doing experiments with non-existant white eggs.

[Update 2/7/13 - the results of the Brown Egg Hatch]

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Astra Bryant

Astra Bryant is a graduate of the Stanford Neuroscience PhD program in the labs of Drs. Eric Knudsen and John Huguenard. She used in vitro slice electrophysiology to study the cellular and synaptic mechanisms linking cholinergic signaling and gamma oscillations – two processes critical for the control of gaze and attention, which are disrupted in many psychiatric disorders. She is a senior editor and the webmaster of the NeuWrite West Neuroblog