Science Articles

As men age, do they pass on genetic abnormalities to their children?

DNA, the basic code of life that makes us who we are, is often the victim of mutations, every single one of them.

As men age, do they pass on genetic abnormalities to their children?

DNA, the basic code of life that makes us who we are, is often the victim of mutations, every single one of them. Some, very few, in fact, are desirable. However, the majority of these are not only undesirable but potentially harmful for us and our future generations.

Genes and abnormalities:

Genes are constantly changing, switching on and off, expressing and repressing themselves. None of this is in our control. This happens because there is a change in DNA as cells constantly divide and reproduce and copies of the same genetic code are made. These copies, however, are imperfect and with each copy being made, DNA gains new random mutations. The problem, however, starts when these abnormal, mutated genes decide to express themselves. This can happen due to some known environmental or lifestyle factors or unknown factors. Then, diseases such as Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, and other illnesses show up and decide to stay. The worst part is that if certain mutations show up in your genes, it does not necessarily mean that the effects of that mutation will be expressed in you.

Fatherhood at an older age and its genetic consequence:

With the ages, human priorities have changed. Now, with our lives getting steadily busier and harder to settle, couples are having kids later in life than they did even a century ago. This increase in the age of parenthood has led to an unexpected genetic consequence. DNA copying is the process of a lifetime and with each time it copies itself, newer and newer mutations occur on it. Now 50% of a person’s genetic makeup is of his father. So, older fathers have been passing on more mutations than their younger counterparts to their children, and potentially more harmful ones. In fact, 60 new mutations are normally passed on to a child from its parents all total.  Most of the mutations aren’t harmful and don’t express themselves. And sometimes, one might crop up which is actually beneficial. But rarely, one or two mutations show up in the children which are deadly and can lead to diseases such as Alzheimer’s and autism. These two diseases and others such as sickle-cell anaemia are the results of one simple letter swap in the genetic code. That is how dangerous it is.

But the risk of these showing up in the child’s genome is still pretty minimal and lower than 1%. So, there is no need to panic yet. In fact, this rise has been the trend for centuries and it is no riskier now than it was then. This research has only shown us how hard it is to control evolution. Evolution does what it wants to and has given us a chance to truly study the intricacies of genes and their mechanisms. It has also allowed us to try to quantify the variations that crop up in the human genome.