Researchers Tag Eggs and Embryos With Bar Codes, For Easy In-Vitro Fertilization

The bar code tags do not remain in the fully grown organism

Barcoded Eggs
Autonomous University of Barcelona

Critics of the selection that's often involved in assisted reproductive technology – picking a 5'10", blond-haired, Ivy League grad egg donor, for example – say it turns conceiving a baby into a shopping exercise. It's probably safe to venture, however, that none of the critics envisioned a day when we'd be bar-coding embryos.

That is precisely what researchers at the Autonomous University of Barcelona have done, reports New Scientist. Using cells from mouse embryos and eggs, the scientists developed a procedure that involves inserting microscopic silicon bar codes into a gap between the cell membrane and an outer membrane called the zona pellucida.

The next step is to try the technique on human embryos and eggs. That will happen soon; the Government of Catalonia health department has already approved the method for use on genetic material provided by Spanish fertility clinics.

The technique could help fertility doctors avoid mix-ups during in-vitro fertilization – such as a 2002 case in which a white couple gave birth to black twins.

Mara Hvistendahl is writing Unnatural Selection, a book on reproductive technology, sex selection, and gender imbalance.