Women have always been warned not to wait to have their first child. “The clock is ticking” is a worry of many women in their 30s. The common wisdom was always that they increase the risk of birth defects as they age. Scientists from the Iceland company Decode Genetics found out that it is fathers’ age that increases the risk of autism, schizophrenia and other syndromes and diseases in their offspring. So, the tendency of many men to wait to have children until they are well into their 40’s and their career is well on the way is putting their children at great risk of various mutations that might result in hereditary syndromes and illnesses.
What is autism?
Autism is a developmental disorder, a group of illnesses that affect the development of many skills and abilities, physical and mental. While the exact causes are not known, genetics are considered as the prevalent cause in most cases.
According to Bob Wright from Autism Speaks, there are about 67 million people in the world with autism today. In the US, CDC reports that one in 88 children is diagnosed with autism each year. The number of autism cases was almost two times bigger in 2009 than in 2000. This large increase can now be explained, at least in part, in the light of the new findings, by the facts that men father children in increasingly older age.
Genetics and mutations
Scientists from Decode Genetics, a company from Reykjavik, Iceland, collected data from 78 families with children diagnosed with schizophrenia or autism, as well as from additional 1,859 Icelandic citizens. They sequenced all their genomes (their genetic maps) and found that for every additional year in the age of the father, there were two additional mutations that were passed on the offspring. Many illnesses besides autism are linked to genetic mutations. By starting families in their later years, men are increasing the possibility that their children will develop some mutation-related disease.
While not all mutations lead to diseases or disorders, the more mutations are passed on the children, the bigger are their chances of one of those mutations having bad consequences.
Interestingly, the only problems related to the mothers” ™ advancing age is a risk of Down syndrome and some rare chromosomal defects.
The results of this research were published in the journal Nature.
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