What Is Sperm Sorting?

A. Gamm

Sperm sorting is a controversial method of pre-fertilization gender selection. It separates the male Y-sperm from the female X-sperm to increase the chances of conceiving a particular gender. It is often paired with other gender selection methods, such as Pre-implantation Genetic Diagnosis (PGD) before being implanted in the mother. It was initially used in animals for production purposes, and it has popularly been used to increase the number of cows. Not long after, however, its potential in human reproduction was realized.

Sperm sorting is employed to boost the likelihood of conceiving a certain gender.
Sperm sorting is employed to boost the likelihood of conceiving a certain gender.

Many methods of sperm sorting are currently available. One of the older methods still employed in 2011 is the Beltsfield Sperm Sexing Technology, which uses a combination of fluorescent dyes and electric charges to separate the two genders. Another method that as of 2011 shows the most accurate sperm sorting results is with the Microsort® technology, which also uses fluorescent dye and laser technology. Although there are more methods available, the two mentioned have shown to be the most effective as of 2011.

A sperm cell.
A sperm cell.

No method guarantees that the sorting is 100% of one particular gender of sperm, but the concentration of either gender of sperm is significantly higher. The Beltsfield method on average has a 90% concentration rate with the X-sperm and 75% with Y-sperm. The Microsort® method has a success rate of 91% for females and 76% for males. As of 2011, many other methods such as the popular Ericsson method still show no real evidence that the concentration rates change beyond 50%.

Although sperm sorting is performed before fertilization and conception, there are several people who worry about the implications of gender selection. Many fear that it may be used to conceive only favored genders, such as in China and India where male children are preferred. Furthermore, some worry that it will create higher awareness to a child’s gender in areas where a preferred gender is not as prominent. Others also still consider sperm sorting to be a form of manipulating nature and morally questionable.

There are reasons for sperm sorting that may be considered valid and are noted in the regulation of sperm sorting by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States. The primary reason is to prevent genetic problems that are linked to gender, such as polycystic ovarian syndrome in females. The secondary reason permitted by the FDA is to maintain a balanced family, meaning that the family wishes to have an equal number of males and females.

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