Why Older Fathers Are More Likely to Pass on Genetic Mutations, And What That Means for the American Family

By Anthony Smith on August 22, 2012 4:24 PM EDT

Baby
Genetic researchers have shocked the world with a groundbreaking new study that proves that older fathers are at a higher risk for passing down more new genetic mutations to their children than do younger fathers, thereby increasing the chances that their offspring will be born with autism, schizophrenia, or a milieu of other diseases. (Photo: Creative Commons)

Genetic researchers have shocked the world with a groundbreaking new study that proves that older fathers are at a higher risk for passing down more new genetic mutations to their children than do younger fathers, thereby increasing the chances that their offspring will be born with autism, schizophrenia, or a milieu of other diseases.

Scientists have always known the age of the parent to play a strong role in the health of the offspring, but till today, wisdom relegated such a relationship to the correlation between the age of the mother and the state of the offspring's health.

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Fortunately for mothers, this new research halves the burden and could lead to a serious rethinking in how families are planned-- especially in America, a country wherein social taboos have placed more of a negative stigma on older women who want to have kids than they do to older men. 

The study, which was published Wednesday in Nature, looked at a genetic analysis of seventy-eight Icelandic families containing children who had been diagnosed with either autism or schizophrenia.

"It's very likely that the rise in the mean age of fathers has made some contribution to the apparent epidemic of autism in our society," reported Kari Stefansson, the chief author of the study and CEO of deCODE Genetics in Iceland.

According to their findings, the increase in risk for both autism and schizophrenia has a strong correlation with the age of father. Older fathers are more likely to pass down these new mutations-- that is, genetic code that isn't inherited from the lineage on either the maternal side or the paternal side.

The study stipulates that the potential reason for this is that sperm cells undergo a constant state of production, dividing significantly more times than ova do. As such, the sperm from older men carry many more of these so-called instances of new mutations.

Though this study looked at a link between autism and schizophrenia, it's important to note that not all mutations are bad. As any scientist will tell you, evolution would be impossible without these new mutations.

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