It is well-known that maternal age is a big factor in the health outcomes of the baby. It has been shown that children born to older women are more likely to suffer from chromosomal aberrations. What is less known is that the age of the father also matters and contributes to the development of certain diseases in the offsprings.
According to a study by researchers at the University of Oxford and Copenhagen University Hospital, there is a link between severe genetic disorders in children and a rare form of testicular tumors that occur among older men.
The rare childhood genetic disorders referred to by the study report include:
- Aper Syndrome
- Noonan Syndrome
- Costello Syndrome
Some of these conditions are so serious that they can result in retarded growth and development or even result in stillbirth.
According to study leader Professor Andrew Wilkie from the University of Oxford:
“We think most men develop these tiny clumps of mutant cells in their testicles as they age. They are rather like moles in the skin, usually harmless in themselves. But by being located in the testicle, they also make sperm – causing children to be born with a variety of serious conditions. We call them ‘selfish’ because the mutations benefit the germ cell but are harmful to offspring.”
Sperms develop from germ cells. Mutations in these cells cause tiny tumors in the testicles. These tumors are normally harmless. However, these genetic aberrations tend to affect the ability to produce healthy sperms. These mutations and the resulting tumors accumulate as a man ages. Thus, an older Dad is most likely to pass on mutant sperms to the next generation, causing the abovementioned genetic disorders than a younger father.
More common diseases linked to paternal age are breast cancer, autism and schizophrenia but the mechanisms behind the link are not known. The researchers hypothesize that similar but milder mutation as reported above maybe responsible.
Dr. Wilkie continues to explain:
“What we have seen so far may just be the tip of a large iceberg of mildly harmful mutations being introduced into our genome. These mutations would be too weak and too rare to be picked up by our current technology, but their sheer number would have a cumulative effect, leading to disease.”
With recent developments in reproductive medicine, it is now possible for women to get pregnant, even at the postmenopausal age. However, there have been questions about whether there should be an age limit to motherhood. But nobody says anything about an age limit to fatherhood. The current study suggests that maybe there should be.