Watching what you eat and drink isn’t just for moms-to-be anymore. New scientific evidence suggests that the father’s diet before conception might be just as important to a child’s health.
A study in mice linked nutritional deficiencies in paternal diet to a higher rate of birth defects compared with those whose fathers were fed a normal, well-rounded menu. The findings raise concerns about dads unknowingly passing on harmful traits through molecular markers on the DNA of their sperm.
Lean Dad Fat Dad Provide Epigenetically Different Sperm | GEN News Highlights | GENThese epigenetic markers don’t change the genetic information, but rather switch parts of the genome on and off. They are susceptible to environment and diet throughout fetal development, but were thought to be wiped clean before birth. New studies, including the one published online Tuesday in Nature Communications, have revealed that some of them may survive all the way from sperm to baby.
It may be just a matter of time before someone writes a book called “Lean Dad Fat Dad” in hopes of emulating the success of “Rich Dad Poor Dad,” a bestseller that summarized the financial life lessons that can be passed from generation to generation. “Lean Dad Fat Dad,” however, wouldn’t be about the behaviors that are determined by example, advice, and custom. Instead, it would be about sperm.Fathers May Pass Down More Than Just Genes, Study Suggests - The New York Times
Sperm not only conveys genetic information, it also carries information about a father’s weight. And the information about weight, which is encoded epigenetically and in the patterns of small RNA expression, has the potential to tip developing offspring toward obesity.
Obesity has been known to be a heritable disorder, with the children of obese fathers having a high risk of becoming obese. Not all of this risk is genetic. Some of it is due to lifestyle or environmental factors, which can be reflected epigenetically. That is, factors such as obesity can affect the way genes are expressed.
In 2010, for example, Dr. Romain Barres of the University of Copenhagen and his colleagues fed male rats a high-fat diet and then mated them with females. Compared with male rats fed a regular diet, those on the high-fat diet fathered offspring that tended to gain more weight, develop more fat and have more trouble regulating insulin levels.Eating high-fat food is just one of several experiences a father can have that can change his offspring. Stress is another. Male rats exposed to stressful experiences — like smelling the odor of a fox — will father pups that have a dampened response to stress.To find the link between a father’s experiences and his offspring’s biology, scientists have taken a close look at sperm. A sperm cell delivers DNA to an egg, of course. But those genes are regulated by swarms of molecules, so-called epigenetic factors.These molecules can respond to environmental influences by silencing some genes and activating others as needed. Some studies suggest the changes in epigenetic factors can be handed down to offspring via sperm.
Father’s diet may influence birth defect risk in newborn: study - The Globe and Mail
The findings, published online Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, show that a male mouse's diet can affect the signaling of genes contained in its sperm. As a result, those fathers apparently pass along an embedded “environmental memory” that affects how the genetic code plays out for the baby both in the womb and during a lifetime.
Attention to diet, particularly folate, has been a mainstay of women’s reproductive health. But until recently, the male’s contribution to an offspring's epigenome, a kind of programming overlay to DNA, has attracted far less attention.
Sperm protein links father's lifestyle with offspring's health - Technology & Science - CBC NewsBut the way that a father’s diet can influence the health and development of offspring has received little attention, said Sarah Kimmins, a specialist in reproductive biology at McGill University who led a study looking at the effects of paternal folate levels.“It can’t all be on the mother,” Kimmins said Tuesday from Montreal. “Our study and others are now showing that the father can be a route for the transmission of birth defects and can influence offspring health.”“Guys need to pay attention to what they’re doing in terms of lifestyle choices prior to having a baby, just like the woman does.”
There's more and more evidence that men's lifestyle and environment long before they have kids can affect their future children's health. Now, a Canadian-led study has shed some light on how and why that effect occurs.
When the researchers changed signals on proteins called histones in the sperm of male mice, their offspring and even their grandchildren had increased birth defects, mortality and stunted growth, they reported in the journal Science. The signals that were changed are the type of signals that are affected by environmental factors such as food, drugs and stress in both mice and humans.
"We didn't expect these lasting effects across generations from changing a protein in one generation," said Sarah Kimmins, an associate professor of reproductive biology at Montreal's McGill University, the senior author of the study.