Sperm selection technique about 80% effective in baby gender selection, study suggests | Science and technology news

A new technique for selecting the sex of a baby appears to be safe and about 80% effective, suggests a study.

The researchers used a technique to separate sperm cells based on whether they had an X chromosome (female offspring) or a Y (male offspring).

Sperm with an X chromosome are slightly heavier than those with a Y chromosome, research indicates.

However, the study again raised long-standing concerns about the ethics of that process.

The selection of embryos for no reason as a sex-linked disease is illegal in many countries.

The experts behind the research, from Weill Cornell Medicine in New York, said their technique was inexpensive and “extremely safe”.

The small study involved 1,317 couples, with 105 men in the group that used the sperm selection process.

Fifty-nine couples wanted a girl and the result was 79.1% (231 of 292) female embryos, with 16 girls born without any abnormalities.

Fifty-six couples wanted a boy, and the technique yielded 79.6% male embryos (223 out of 280), resulting in 13 healthy male babies.

Professor Gianpiero Palermo, one of the authors, defined it as “extremely safe as well as efficient, inexpensive and ethically attractive”.

However, some experts have expressed serious concerns despite the apparent effectiveness of the technique.

Dr Channa Jayasena, head of andrology at Imperial College London, said ‘their technical achievement is insignificant compared to the serious ethical concerns raised by the research.’

“They propose sperm selection as an ‘ethical’ alternative to embryo selection,” he said.

“I find this incredible since sperm selection is just another way of selecting embryos to manipulate the sex of the offspring, with harmful social implications.”

He said regulation was urgently needed to control such developments, adding that it could be adapted in the future to target traits such as skin or eye color.

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Darren Griffin, professor of genetics at the University of Kent, also said sex selection was “ethically fraught”.

“Early sperm separation may provide a legal loophole in some countries, but not in the UK,” she said.

“There have been numerous methods around for decades, some effective but potentially harmful, some of dubious effectiveness.

“The current paper appears to have found a method where the approach is effective to some extent…

“I am convinced that the science is sound and that, instead of the usual 50:50 ‘coin toss’, a couple can have a baby of the desired gender just under 80% of the time.”

I study is published in the magazine PLOS ONE.


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