New technique ‘about 80% effective’ at creating babies of desired sex, study suggests Science and technology news


A new method for selecting a baby’s sex appears safe and about 80% effective, according to a study.

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

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

However, the study has again raised long-held concerns about the ethics of such a process.

Selection of embryos without reasons such as a sex-linked disease is illegal in many countries.

Experts behind the research at 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 using the sperm sorting process.

59 couples wanted a girl, resulting in 79.1% (231 of 292) female embryos, with 16 girls born without abnormalities.

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

Professor Gianpiero Palermo, one of the authors, called it “extremely safe and efficient, inexpensive and ethical”.

However, some experts have raised serious concerns despite the technique’s apparent effectiveness.

dr Channa Jayasena, Head of Andrology at Imperial College London, said: “Her 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 as sperm selection is just another way of selecting embryos to manipulate the sex of the offspring, with detrimental societal repercussions.”

He said regulation was urgently needed to control such developments, adding that in the future they could be adjusted to select characteristics such as skin or eye color.

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Darren Griffin, a professor of genetics at the University of Kent, also said sex selection is “ethically burdensome”.

“Prior segregation of sperm may be a legal loophole in some countries, but not in the UK,” he said.

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

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

“I am convinced that the science is solid and that instead of the usual 50-50 coin toss, a couple can have a baby of the desired gender a little less than 80% of the time.”

The study appears in the journal PLOS ONE.

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