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Sex selection the high-tech way

WOMAN'S INSTINCT
By - Hannah Chira | October 6th 2012

There are traditional ways of influencing the sex of a baby that traditional midwives would swear by. Now, scientist have developed several high tech methods, writes Hannah Chira

The world is awash with myths and tips that prescribe many ways of influencing the sex of a child you will conceive.

Even so, technology is here to aid you determine the sex of your baby with two types of methods of doing so. Scientist have gone the extra mile and come up with new ways of influencing whether you will conceive a girl or a boy. These are MicroSort Sperm Sorting and Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD).

This week, we shall tackle one method and explore PGD next week. But then, prior to this and to aid us understand the process and the terms, first an introduction.

Semen produced by a man contains half X (female) and Y (male) sperm. Usually the female sperm is bigger than male sperm because it has 2.8 per cent more total DNA. Whichever sperm fertilises the egg determines whether it will be a boy or girl.

There also exists a process where a woman’s egg is injected with the sperm from a man. It is known as In-Vitro Fertilisation (IVF). This procedure does not test for female or male chromosomes, so the chances of conceiving one or the other are still approximately 50/50.

Another process sees the sperm injected directly into the uterus. This process is known as Intrauterine Insemination (IUI). Usually the sperm is not separated into X and Y.

MicroSort Sperm Sorting

This is a high-tech method that uses a technique known as ‘flow cytomety’, where sperm is sorted. The sorting is based on the larger X chromosome, which we know is larger than the Y sperm.

Usually, the woman is inseminated with the sperm that will influence the sex of a baby. If mostly the X sperm is inseminated, she is more likely to conceive a girl, and with Y sperm a boy.

This technique has a success rate of 91 per cent for a girl and 76 per cent for a boy. It uses either IUI or IVF. Insemination via IUI is done in a MicroSort facility because it must be done using fresh semen.

IVF, which is becoming common locally, is done at a physician’s office and the semen sample is obtained and separated for the IVF procedure.

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Benefits and challenges

MicroSort is a less expensive choice than PGD, which we shall explore next week, for couples who would like to influence the gender of their child, but aren’t absolutely determined to have one sex over the other. However, it does cost hundreds of thousands..

Unfortunately, the freezing of the sperm and thawing done in IVF procedure exposes the sperm to the risk of damage. This means there will be less viable sperm available.

Doctors recommend this process to be done for a male with high sperm count. MicroSort is also not guaranteed. Each batch of X sperm contains about ten per cent Y sperm, and each batch of Y sperm about 24 per cent X sperm. It’s possible to go to a great deal of trouble and expense and not have a child of the desired sex.

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