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Sorting the sheep from the goats

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Australian scientists from the University of Newcastle in New South Wales reckon they have built a machine that can sort duff sperm from the sort of virile, thrusting, genetically-superior seed required for successful IVF.

The device is, according to a BBC report, "based on the principle that the sperm with the most negatively charged membranes are likely to have the least DNA damage." Such damage is thought to be linked to infertility and an increased chance of developing childhood cancers. Older dads and those who smoke and have been exposed to pollution in the workplace are more likely to pump out dodgy spermatozoa.

The "Gradiflow" requires sperm to travel between two chambers separated by a electrically-charged filter. Tests indicated that "the 20% of sperm that made it into the second chamber had only half as much DNA damage as the sperm left behind".

Dr Moira O'Bryan, of the Monash Institute of Reproduction and Development in Melbourne, said: "It is so simple. I've never seen anything like it before. You turn it on, the sperm move across and there you go. Only time will tell, but it might take some of the subjective nature out of picking good sperm."

The Gradiflow will be further tested in trials on women undergoing IVF later this year, although some doubt the claims that damaged sperm lead to both "a lower IVF success rate, and a higher risk of miscarriage". London Fertility Centre director, Professor Ian Craft, cautioned: "If it works, this device sounds like a nice idea." ®

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