First 'test tube hermaphrodite' reported
Doctors: Rare condition shouldn't concern infertile couples
January 18, 1998
Two types of embryos, a male with x y chromosomes and a
female with double x, become one fetus
Web posted at: 10:59 a.m. EDT (1059 GMT)
ATLANTA (CNN) -- The odds of a human being naturally having
both male and female sexual characteristics are slim, both in
the general population and for so-called "test tube babies"
conceived through in vitro fertilization. In fact, in 20
years of in vitro fertilization, it has never happened
-- until now.
In the latest issue of the New England Journal of Medicine,
Scottish researchers reported the first known case of a
hermaphrodite found in an in vitro fertilization.
The researchers say couples using the process should be
warned of this possible outcome, though it is unlikely to
happen to them.
More than 100,000 babies have been born through IVF since
Louise Brown, the world's first test tube baby, was born in
The hermaphrodite case, the only one of those thousands to
develop this irregularity during conception, arose due to an
error in the fertilization. During the IVF process, a male
embryo, with an x and y chromosome, and a female embryo, with
two x chromosomes, fused.
"In combination, the genetics or chromosomes were mixed to
become one fetus," explained Dr. Dorothy Mitchell-Leef, a
reproductive biology associate, who says the true
hermaphrodite condition is found in nature "maybe one in
every 25,000 deliveries."
The condition is not life-threatening. It can be surgically
corrected, but the individual will have fertility problems.
Researchers say the condition is so rare that couples
considering IVF need not be concerned about the finding.
Dr. Mark Perloe, a reproductive specialist at the Atlanta
Reproductive Health Center, said it is unlikely he will
change the way he counsels couples considering the
The term "hermaphrodite" is derived from the ancient Greek myth of Hermaphroditus, son of Hermes and Aphrodite. While bathing, he became united in a single body with a
"We make them aware of the risk of passing on certain male
fertility factors," he said. "In some cases that may increase
fertility problems in the offspring."
In 20 years of in vitro fertilization, there have been no
reports that the technique increases the odds of birth
defects or other abnormalities. However, the technology has
made it possible for thousands of infertile couples to become
From Correspondent Rhonda Rowland