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Can your diet really determine the sex of your child?
Scientists this week declared that first-time mothers who consume more calories around the time of conception are more likely to give birth to boys. The yellow fruit with the phallic shape – appropriate in this context – is the best dietary aid for intending mothers wanting a boy, according to research published yesterday.
The result is that men produce two types of sperm, one carrying the X chromosome and one the Y chromosome, while women only produce eggs with the X chromosome.
The sex of the child they produce is determined by whether an X or a Y sperm fuses with the egg.
A hundred years later, the Victorians suggested that would-be parents who wanted boys should go on a strict diet because the male was the "starved sex" – which is exactly the reverse of yesterday's finding.
It was not until the beginning of the last century that the biology of sex selection – and the man's crucial role in it – was understood, which ushered in a new era of "scientific" attempts to influence the process.
Gender-selection clinics opened in London and Birmingham offering the service and claimed to be doing brisk business.
There was scepticism from the start about whether their methods genuinely improved on the chance offered by nature.
They said that, although Y sperm "wiggled more quickly", there was no statistical evidence that this method successfully separated them.
Like most theories since, it remains unsupported by the evidence.
In the 18th century, men desperate to produce sons – it was always sons – were advised to resort to the drastic measure of cutting off their left testicle, by a French anatomist who wrote under the name of Procope-Couteau.
A second method, used at the Genetics and IVF Institute in Fairfax, Virginia, US, had more to commend it.
This involved sorting sperm by laser, after staining them with a fluorescent dye, which enabled differences in the quantity of DNA carried by X and Y sperm to be detected.