Uruguayan technique allows baby's sex to be determined before 7th week

Montevideo, Aug 22 (EFE).- A Uruguayan laboratory is offering its customers the possibility of identifying the sex of their babies before the seventh week of pregnancy.

The method - "Nena o Varon" (Girl or Boy) - was developed by the firm ATGen.

A standard blood test is performed on the mother and by examining the DNA from the sample the genetic information of the developing child is obtained and from that its sex can be determined.

"In the laboratory what we do is extract the DNA from that blood and we process it with the PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) technique," which allows the detection of tiny quantities of genetic material from the fetus that travel through the mother's circulatory system, ATGen operation director Fabricio Sarlos told Efe.

"That there is fetal DNA in the mother's blood has been known for years, at least 5 percent and up to about 10 percent," but the key is in the method of analyzing it, he said.

To check and see if the product would be marketable, ATGen did "a validation study during the second half of 2012 and the first two months of 2013" with 300 volunteers.

The results could not have been better: the technique determined the sex of the fetuses 99.13 percent of the time.

ATGen is a technology firm founded at the beginning of the last decade at the Faculty of Sciences of the state-supported Universidad de la Republica as a result of a collaboration between professors and students.

In 2005, it split off from the university and was acquired by the Laboratorios Celsius pharmaceutical group and began to sell biomolecular services and kits for humans.

The official launching of "Girl or Boy" came on July 23 but the firm only began providing the product in August for the price of 2,150 pesos ($100).

The company is intending to export the technique in the form of a kit to other countries so that other labs can perform the tests after the possibility of receiving samples from abroad and processing them in Uruguay was ruled out.

"Sending blood by mail is not easy," the firm said.