Saturday, June 07, 2008

Fathers Can Harm Unborn

Fathers Can Harm Unborn
Posted on: Wednesday, 4 June 2008, 18:00 CDT


"There is no finer investment for any community than putting milk into babies," is one of Winston Churchill's less well-known quotes.

He was of course referring to the fact that the most important investment in our future is in our sons and daughters.

Even in the poor families of the Industrial Revolution priority was given to feeding children as well as possible. Parents would go hungry to do this.

In more recent times it has become clear that the health of the mother before and during pregnancy is paramount to the health of the newborn.

Abstinence from alcohol and cigarettes should be the starting point. Foetal alcohol syndrome is a now a well-established condition.

The next step is to check the mother is eating correctly and not lacking in any vitamins or minerals. This way most deficiencies, apart from those which may be genetically expressed, can be monitored and corrected.

Where does this leave poor Dad? Well probably quite happy that his metabolism does not seem to directly affect the health of the child. After all the sperms are constantly being freshly synthesised so what is the worry?

However there is now strong evidence that exposure of future fathers to chemicals, such as Agent Orange or dioxin, has had major detrimental effect on the foetus. This effect could not be via the mother who was not exposed.

Babies of fathers exposed to solvents are more likely to be still born, miscarried or develop later cancer. Teenage dads face premature births, low-birth weight and postnatal death. Seventy to 80-year- old dads stand a greater risk of passing on genetic abnormalities. They are likely to have babies with autism, schizophrenia and Down's syndrome. It is all a matter of numbers.

Since males make new sperm every 74 days it used to be believed that the slate was wiped clean. Each year after puberty sperm- producing cells divide 23 times. Each cell division provides risk of genetic error.

Consequently sperms produced when a man is 40 have gone through 610 replications. This is 610 chances of mutation and alteration of the DNA. Parents over 40 are six times more likely to have a child with Down's syndrome than are 25-year- old parents.

Gladys Friedlander, Boston University, United States, found what appeared to be Lamarckism - that is, the inheritance of acquired characters - discredited long ago. Experiments with rats and narcotic tolerance showed that paternal exposure affected progeny.

More recently it have been discovered that chemical modifications of the DNA and proteins can change the gene packaging without changing the genes themselves. These epigenetic changes form a memory of whether the genes come from mother or father. This label is not encoded in the DNA.

Matthew Anway, University of Idaho, has shown that male rats exposed to fungicide in the womb can pass this on for at least three generations. Male rats born to mothers exposed to fungicide had prostate problems akin to those in aging human males. Subsequent generations of males and females showed kidney and tumour problems and the males testis and prostate problems. What was clear and unequivocal was that only the males could pass on these problems even though later generations were not exposed to the chemical.

The take home message from these observations is that the male, as well as the female, shares experiences with descendants for years to come. So maybe the sins of human fathers have been vested in the offspring for much longer than previously thought?

(c) 2008 Evening Standard; Palmerston North, New Zealand. Provided by ProQuest Information and Learning. All rights Reserved.



At 4:07 AM, Blogger Marco said...

Try telling a "evolution expert" such as Richard Dawkins whether these experiments demonstrate inheritance of acquired characters, and he will deny that they show any such thing. If you are interested, I have made a few entries on Lamarckism.

I agree with your sentiment on this Blog that we have to look after our male genetic integrity, as well as just our basic ability to reproduce. What bad stuff we do in our lifetime CAN affect the genes we pass on.


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