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Animals Choose Their Children's Sex?Why Can't We?

Some mammals, such as zebras, gazelles, deer and goats, can adjust the sex of their offspring?something human parents have been trying to do for many years. They produce males when conditions are good for childbearing, and daughters at less favorable times. And there is a mysterious town in India where almost everyone gives birth to twins.

Now that scientists know that some animals can adjust their children?s sex, they want to learn how they do it, so it can be applied to humans. This would eliminate abortions and child abandonment in places like China, where boys are desired in preference to girls. It would also help stem population growth if parents could have a child of the sex they want right away. Normally, slightly more boys are born than girls, since boy babies are more frail and a few more of them die.

Traditional societies that prefer boys will have too many of them compared to the number of girls when they reach a marriageable age. This could make the remaining girls especially prized as adolescents, despite being unwanted as infants. It could also increase emigration to other countries, as the men search for wives.

In recent years, multiple births have increased in the West due to in-vitro fertilization, where multiple eggs are manually fertilized before being placed in a woman's womb. But Rajan Chakravarty, writing for bbcnews.com, has discovered a place in India where large numbers of twins are born naturally.

In the small village of Mohammad Pur Umri, one in every 10 births produced twins, most of them identical. The normal odds of a woman giving birth to identical twins is one in 300.

It wasn't always this way. "Over the last 10-15 years, the number of twin births has gone up significantly," says Netaji, who has lived there for 70 years. Scientists are studying the village to try to determine why this change has occurred. It's known that twins run in families, so they would have expected this to have been going on longer in such a small, insular place.

One theory is that this is happening due to a high incidence of marriage between relatives. Yet these types of marriages don't necessarily produce a large number of twins.

The confusion is increased by the fact that parents enjoy dressing their identical twins alike. Guddu and Munnu are the oldest twins in the village, and Guddu says even his wife can't always tell them apart. "Once my brother had a quarrel with someone in the neighborhood," Gudu says. "When I saw him being taken away by the police, I followed, trying to find out what had happened. As I approached a policeman, he angrily asked me to accompany him to the station. I told them I wasn't the person they'd first held?I was wearing a white suit, my brother was dressed differently. But they wouldn't listen. I was only let out when the confusion cleared, a few hours later."

"This phenomenon is partly a gift of nature, and partly a gift of the land of this village," says Abu Saad. "There's something in the soil that produces so many identical twins." He has two pairs of twin sisters among his eight siblings, which scientists say is "an extremely rare occurrence."

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