Studies have long since proven that parents pass down genes to their children. Your genes essentially tell the story of you, scientifically speaking, and what you are made of, specifically your chromosomes and DNA. Our genes decide whether or not we are obese, develop cancer, or suffer from anxiety, among many other genetic dispositions. Researchers are now studying whether or not genes are the only thing fathers pass down to their children.
The study begins with a Danish man who is about to undergo bariatric surgery. He provided a sperm sample both before and after his surgery. Could it be that a man’s sperm is altered based on his experiences? Scientists investigate to find out by taking a closer look at sperm and possible epigenetic changes in genes.
Sperm cells are responsible for delivering DNA to the female’s egg. The genes, regulated by molecules and epigenetic factors, respond differently depending on their environmental influences as some genes are silenced while others become active. By further studying the sperm of male lab rats, a neuroscientist at the University of Pennsylvania, Dr. Tracy L. Bale and her colleagues discovered an unusual level of epigenetic molecules, referred to as microRNA, in the sperm of male lab rats. Scientists injected male rats, of a seemingly mellow demeanour, with a cocktail of microRNA and found that the embryos of these male rats had developed altered stress responses. These studies are only the beginning of investigating the epigenetics of fatherhood in humans.
A group of scientists later conducted a study of six Danish men that were obese and about to undergo bariatric surgery. Scientists were interested in whether or not losing weight would change their methylation patterns. After one year following the bariatric surgery, scientists found that nearly 3,900 genes were methylated differently.
Although the findings of these studies are not entirely conclusive as to the epigenetic changes passed down by fathers, there is much to consider along this pathway of thinking. More studies should be conducted to consider the epigenetic factors that could be altered and passed down by a father’s sperm.
Zimmer, C. (2015). Fathers May Pass Down More Than Just Genes, Study Suggests. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2015/12/08/science/parents-may-pass-down-more-than-just-genes-study-suggests.html