A new technique for selecting a baby’s sex appears to be safe and about 80 per cent effective, a study suggests.
The researchers used a technique to distinguish whether sperm had an X chromosome (for female offspring) or a Y chromosome (for male offspring).
Studies have shown that sperm with an X chromosome are slightly heavier than those with a Y chromosome.
However, the study reignited long-standing concerns about the ethics of such a process.
In many countries, it is illegal to select embryos for no reason, such as a sex-related disease.
The experts behind the study at Weill Cornell Medicine in New York say their technique is cheap and “extremely safe”.
The small study involved 1,317 couples in which 105 men had the sperm sorting process.
59 couples wanted a girl and it turned out that 79.1% (231 of 292) were female embryos, of which 16 girls were born without any abnormalities.
Of the 56 couples who wanted a boy, the technique produced 79.6% male embryos (223 of 280), resulting in 13 healthy baby boys.
One of the authors, Professor Gianpiero Palermo, called it “extremely safe, efficient, cheap and ethical”.
However, despite the technology’s apparent effectiveness, some experts have expressed serious concerns.
Dr Channa Jayasena, head of Andrology at Imperial College London, said “their technical achievements are trivial compared to the serious ethical issues raised by the research”.
“They propose sperm selection as an ‘ethical’ alternative to embryo selection,” he said.
“I find this unbelievable because sperm selection is just another way of selecting embryos to manipulate the sex of offspring, with deleterious societal implications.”
Regulation is urgently needed to control this development, he said, adding that it could be tweaked in the future to select for 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 “morally concerning”.
“Prior separation of sperm may provide a legal loophole in some countries, but not in the UK,” he said.
“There have been many approaches over the decades, some effective but potentially harmful, and some of questionable effectiveness.
“The current paper seems to have found a way that works to some extent…
“I believe the science is solid and not the usual 50:50 ‘coin flip’ where a couple can get a baby of the desired sex 80% of the time.”
Research Published in the journal PLOS ONE.