Barcodes Prevent IVF Mix-Ups

Sometimes, accidents happen. But, when you go through the process of IVF, you want to make sure that everything goes… swimmingly. However, sometimes, IVF mix-ups do happen. In Poland, a woman gave birth to another woman’s child after her husband’s sperm was used to fertilize someone else’s egg. In the US, a couple discovered the wrong sperm sample was used when the baby’s skin color didn’t match the donor they had selected.

Clinics are often working with several patients at once, and mistakes are made Fertility clinics try to minimise the risk by electronically labelling the containers that store sperm and eggs, and ensuring all procedures are overseen by two embryologists. But neither approach is foolproof.” says Carme Nogués at the Autonomous University of Barcelona in Spain.

So, how can IVF mix-ups be prevented? Barcodes!

Nogués developed a method to label the sperm and egg cells with tiny barcodes. The barcodes are made from polysilicon and each tag is approximately 1/10th of the width of a human egg. The barcodes can be marked with patterns representing an eight-digit binary code, offering 256 possible combinations.

In order to attach the barcodes to the eggs, a protein that binds carbohydrates to the cell’s outer surface is used. Barcodes are read using a microscope before going forward with any IVF procedure in order to ensure the right egg is being used. Once implanted in the womb, the barcode is shed and does not affect the egg or embryo.

However, sperm are much smaller than eggs, and thus, more difficult to label. Instead, thousands of barcode copies are pumped into semen samples, aiming for at least one barcode per microliitre sample used. This allows a microscope to verify the origin of the semen before it’s used. Again, after extensive testing, there was no difference between barcoded and non-barcoded sperm samples.

While the approach has yet to be approved for use in humans, there is already demand in animal-based industries, such as horse breeding and farming.

Hopefully, barcoded sperm and eggs will be approved for human use to prevent any future mix-ups.