Scientists from Northwestern University have discovered that children whose fathers delayed parenthood until later in life may be “genetically programmed” to live longer. Additionally, if their grandfathers were also older fathers, the result was amplified.
Chromosomes have structures called telomeres that cap their ends to prevent damage. As we age, these telomeres shorten, which is associated with a shorter lifespan. Scientists have found that this is the opposite in sperm, however, where telomeres actually lengthen with age. The longer a man lives, the more the telomeres lengthen and the genetic make-up of his sperm change, which passes on a tendency towards longer life to his children. Telomeres were found to be even longer if the child’s paternal grandfather was also older when he had children.
Dr. Dan Eisenberg and fellow scientists at Northwestern studied the telomeres in blood samples from 1,7779 adults in the Philippines.
“If your father and grandfather were able to live and reproduce at a later age, this might predict that you yourself live in an environmentthat is somewhat similar — an environment with less accidental deaths or in which men are only able to find a partner at later ages,” said Dan Eisenberg, lead author of the study. ”In such an environment, investing more in a body capable of reaching these late ages could be an adaptive strategy from an evolutionary perspective.”
The researchers do not recommend that men wait until late in life to have children though, as the risk of miscarriage and genetic mutations increase with the age of the father. Professor Thomas von Zglinicki of Newcastle University commented to BBC News that it is still not known whether the advantage of longer telomeres outweigh the disadvantages that come with higher levels of general DNA damage and mutations in sperm. A co-author of the study, Christopher Kuzawa, says that it remains to be seen whether longer telomeres may result in lower health risks in advanced age.
The results of the study can be found in the June 11-15 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.
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