Scientists Demonstrate World’s First Technique For Sex Selection During Pregnancy

A procedure that enables sex selection during pregnancy may soon be available. Scientists from Israel have demonstrated the world's first proof-of-concept for genetically selecting whether to have a female or male baby during development.  

The new process mimics the ability of some plants, insects, crustaceans and fish to change the sex of their babies before they are born. The team from Tel Aviv University in Israel provided mammals the same genetic system, which enabled two animals to mate and produce only females during tests. 

The researchers noted the same genetic technique can be used to produce only males. The results of their tests conducted with mice were published in the journal EMBO Reports

“The research provides the world's first proof-of-concept for mammals to genetically produce only female progeny,” Udi Qimron, one of the lead researchers and a professor at TAU, said in a statement

He added the process can also be demonstrated in cattle, swine, goats, chickens and other animals in the future. 

Qimron’s team used CRISPR-Cas9 to genetically engineer the mice models. The Cas9 protein worked with an encoded guide-RNAs after fertilization, which enabled the scientists to eliminate male embryos during pregnancy and produce female offspring. 

"Our results pave the way for a genetic system that allows biased sex production,” Qimron said. "Importantly, the system can also be used to produce only males. Engineering the guide-RNAs on the paternal X-sex chromosome should result in the exclusive elimination of females, resulting in males-only progeny, which are more beneficial in the beef industry."

The researcher explained that crossing Cas9 and guide-RNAs helps remove either male or female as the CRISPR protein follows a certain chromosome to target essential genes. During the test, the cross blocked the embryonic development of males without affecting the development of females.

Qimron described the results as the first-of-its-kind approach to determining mammalian sex through a genetic technique. Currently, the researchers hope the process will help producers of cattle, swine and chicken.

Will Gene Editing Help Humans? 

The team did not mention the application of their technique in humans. The use of CRISPR-Cas9 as a gene editing tool has long been questioned by scientists.

In 2018, a scientist from China claimed he used the tool to produce twin girls with edited genomes. He Jiankui, from the Southern University of Science and Technology in Guangdong, described the breakthrough as the first babies made with CRISPR-Cas9. 

However, he received wide criticism, with organizations saying his project was “irresponsible and failed to conform with international norms." The Chinese government ordered He to stop any ongoing experiment.

Gene Editing CRISPR/Cas9 continues to provide scientists new ways to understand and fight previously untreatable diseases. Pixabay