Scientists have developed a new sperm separation technique which could in future allow couples having IVF to choose if they have a boy or girl before fertilisation.
Experts in Japan report they have come up with a new method allowing them to split mouse sperm carrying an X chromosome from those carrying a Y chromosome.
It means sperm can be chosen based on whether they will result in female (XX) or male (XY) offspring when it is used to fertilise an egg.
It was thought the sperm of mammals that lead to both offspring are identical except for the DNA they carry.
But researchers at Hiroshima University found 492 genes are active in sperm that carry the X chromosome, which give rise to female offspring, that are not active in sperm that carry the Y chromosome, which lead to male offspring.
Some 18 of the X chromosome genes encoded receptors, and were good candidates for manipulating the sperm – because of their response to stimuli.
The team has found that a chemical that binds to two of these proteins can slow down the movement of X-carrying sperm without affecting the Y-carrying ones.
This discovery makes it easier to separate sperm according to the sex of the offspring they could produce.
Sperm from mice that were treated with the chemical, followed by in-vitro fertilisation with the fastest swimmers, led to litters that were 90% male.
This was compared to litters of 81% female when slower swimmers were used.
Scientists say that whilst other methods of separating X and Y sperm exist, they are cumbersome, expensive, and risk damaging the DNA of the sperm.
The study was performed on mice – but the technique is thought to be widely applicable to other mammals too.
Researchers say that unlike the Y chromosome, which does not carry many genes, the X chromosome carries lots, some of which remain active in the maturing sperm.
That provides a theoretical basis for distinguishing the two, the research published in the journal PLOS Biology sets out.
Professor Masayuki Shimada, said: “The differential expression of receptor genes by the two sex chromosomes provides the basis for a novel and potentially highly useful method for separating X and Y sperm and we have already succeeded the selectively production of male or female in cattle and pigs by this method.
“Nonetheless, use of this method in human reproductive technology is speculative at the moment, and involves significant ethical issues unaffected by the utility of this new technique.”
Dr Peter Ellis, lecturer in Molecular Biology and Reproduction, University of Kent School of Biosciences, said: “This study makes the startling claim that there are cell surface markers on X- and Y-bearing sperm cells that ‘label’ these and selectively affect their function.
“This type of marker has been sought for many years in many different species, but thus far without success.
“If this study were to be replicated – and in particular if it holds true in species other than mice – then the implications could be colossal for both animal and human artificial insemination and assisted reproduction, but we are certainly not at that stage yet.”
Libya summit: World leaders gather in Berlin in bid to resolve escalating civil war | World News
Boris Johnson will join other world leaders – including Russia’s Vladimir Putin – at a summit in Berlin on Sunday aimed at trying to resolve an escalating civil war in Libya.
The rival heads of the two sides fighting for control of the North African state are due to attend the long-awaited gathering.
They are respectively backed by different foreign powers in a conflict that risks turning Libya into the latest proxy warzone after Syria.
Before the talks even began, rebel forces blocked oil exports from Libya’s main ports, ramping up pressure on the internationally-recognised government of Prime Minister Fayez al Sarraj.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is hosting the meeting, hopes to convince the warring factions, with the help of the United Nations, to agree on a lasting ceasefire.
This could include the deployment of the UN-backed peacekeeping force to oversee the implementation of any enduring truce.
But diplomats are not expecting a significant breakthrough this weekend.
The dialogue in Berlin is seen as the start of a process to try to resolve the past nine months of increasingly dangerous conflict.
A US official travelling with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who will be present, said: “I think it’s so complex and the heels are so far dug in that I would have moderate expectations as we go into this.”
Libya has been consumed by conflict and instability since the ousting of Colonel Muamar Gaddafi in an uprising in 2011 that was supported by Britain, France and the US.
Since last April, fighting has spiked again between forces loyal to the Government of National Accord (GNA) in Tripoli and the so-called Libyan National Army (LNA) that supports would-be strongman Khalifa Haftar, a former Libyan general.
The UN-recognised government is being variously supported diplomatically, financially and militarily by Turkey, Qatar and Italy.
On the other side, Russia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and France are helping Mr Haftar.
The violence over the past few months has left thousands of people dead or injured and forced some 140,000 civilians to flee their homes, raising the possibility of a new wave of migration across the Mediterranean to Europe.
It is also creating a security vacuum into which extremist groups are able to flourish.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used this threat to warn European allies of what he viewed as the danger of not backing the Tripoli government.
He said the European Union’s failure to adequately support Prime Minister al Sarraj would be “a betrayal of its own core values, including democracy and human rights”.
“Europe will encounter a fresh set of problems and threats if Libya’s legitimate government were to fall,” President Erdogan wrote in an article for the Politico website.
“Terrorist organisations such as ISIS and al Qaeda, which suffered a military defeat in Syria and Iraq, will find a fertile ground to get back on their feet.”
In a joint initiative, Turkey and Russia have brokered a ceasefire but Mr Haftar walked away from talks in Moscow this week aimed at finalising the truce agreement.
A furious President Erdogan has accused him of fleeing and said he would “teach (him) a lesson” if he resumed fighting.
World powers are trying to mediate a lasting ceasefire at the international conference in Berlin, which President Erdogan will attend. Other leaders present include President Emmanuel Macron of France.
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said at a press briefing on Friday: “We hope what comes out of Berlin is renewed demonstration of international unity in supporting the intra-Libyan political process, ending foreign interference, leading to full respect of the UN arms embargo.”
The conference will aim to agree six points – including a permanent ceasefire, implementation of a much-violated UN arms embargo and a return to political efforts for peace.
Tribesmen allied to Mr Haftar imposed the oil export blockades from Friday at the eastern ports of Brega, Ras Lanuf, Hariga, Zuitina and Es Sider.
The move is reportedly in protest at a decision by Turkey to send troops to Libya to shore up Prime Minister al Sarraj.
While the focus of the day will be on Libya, the meeting will provide the first opportunity for Mr Johnson as prime minister to sit round a table with Russia’s President Putin.
It is not yet known whether the two men will hold any bilateral talks.
Relations between London and Moscow are at a post-Cold War low in the wake of the attempted assassination of a former Russian spy and his daughter in Salisbury.
A failure by Mr Johnson to allow the release of a parliamentary report ahead of last month’s election into alleged Russian meddling in in the UK caused an outcry.
US Space Force mocked over new camouflage uniform | US News
The US Space Force has been mocked after proudly unveiling its new uniforms – featuring full woodland camouflage.
It posted an image of the gear on Twitter saying: “Space Force propels the @DeptofDefence into a new era dedicated to protecting US and national interests and security in space.”
However, the reaction to the new outfit has been less than complimentary – with most pointing out the design will not help troops blend in during space missions.
One person tweeted: “How many trees are you expecting to find in space?”
Another pointed out: “Space is black… I feel like this is an important distinction when designing a uniform.”
One Twitter critic suggested the president could learn a few things from Star Wars, pointing out: “The only explanation I have is that The #SpaceForce will be invading the forest moon of Endor.
“I doubt the US has learned that an occupying military has little chance of conquering the Ewoks.”
Following the vitriol directed at it, the United States Space Force posted a further statement, adding: “USSF is utilizing current Army/Air Force uniforms, saving costs of designing/producing a new one.”
Donald Trump launched the force last month, claiming “space is the world’s new war-fighting domain” as he signed off the $1.4trn (£1.08trn) National Defence Authorisation Act.
It is part of a package that also provides money for a US-Mexico border wall.
40-stone Islamic State leader Abu Abdul Bari arrested in Iraq and taken away in truck because he was too heavy for car | World News
A 40-stone Islamic State terrorist has been arrested in Iraq by a SWAT team, security officials have said.
Abu Abdul Bari, also known as Shifa al-Nima, was taken away on the back of a truck after his arrest in Mosul as the extremist, who weighs an estimated 40-stone (254kg), could not be transported in a car.
Pictures of Bari, who Iraqi police consider to be one of IS’s senior figures, on the vehicle wedged against a mounted machine gun have appeared online. He is also pictured at home.
It is unclear how he was removed from his hiding place.
Bari is an IS mufti, or expert in religious law, who issued fatwas that led to the deaths of scholars and clerics who refused to pledge allegiance to the terrorist group when it occupied the city, officials said.
During the group’s self-styled caliphate in 2014, he ordered the destruction of a mosque built at the site believed to be the burial place of the biblical prophet Jonah, who once had a notable encounter with a whale.
The Iraqi government’s security services announced the arrest in a statement, is has been reported.
The statement said the preacher, considered one of the top leaders of “IS gangs”, was known for “provocative speeches against the security forces”, the independent US military news outlet Stars and Stripes added.
Maajid Nawaz, founder of the London-based anti-extremism think Quilliam, said on Facebook that Bari “had to be taken by police in the back of a pick-up truck”.
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