Sunday, 17 June 2012 19:47
Longer telomeres may promote slower aging.
Fathers who wait until they are older to have children may be passing along some life-extending benefits to their offspring: longer telomeres.
The research team analyzed data from the Philippines’ Cebu Longitudinal Health and Nutrition Survey, which followed the offspring of 3,327 women who were pregnant in the early 1980s. The researchers compared children’s telomere lengths to the ages of their fathers and grandfathers when each successive generation was born.
According to a new study conducted in the Philippines by researchers at Northwestern University, the children and grandchildren of older fathers—those in their 30’s to early 50’s—have longer telomeres, the ends of chromosomes that protect the chromosomes from degeneration.
Previous research had found that the older a man is when he decides to have children the more likely it was that his children would carry mutations that increase the likelihood of disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder.
This may have to do with the fact that as people age and their cells continue to divide, telomeres get shorter. And shorter telomeres have been linked to age-related illnesses. But, in the case of sperm, telomeres actually lengthen with age and the authors believe that older fathers are passing along the longer telomeres to their children.
The longer telomeres may actually be providing an evolutionary advantage. “If our recent ancestors waited until later in adulthood before they reproduced, perhaps for cultural reasons, it would make sense for our bodies to prepare for something similar by investing the extra resources necessary to maintain healthy functioning at more advanced ages,” says study co-author, Christopher Kuzawa.
Despite the findings, the authors caution that data doesn’t suggest that men should wait to have children because the risk of passing on harmful mutations to their children still exists. “Most literature suggests risks from paternal age and this is intriguing because it stands in contrast to [our research],” says Dan Eisenberg in an interview with Bloomberg. “We don’t really know, on balance, what the net effect is.”
By VINAY SINGH