Fathers pass on more than genetics in sperm

Avatar By Karen Saltos | 1 year ago

In the past several years, evidence has revealed that sperm can make a note of a father’s lifestyle decisions and transfer baggage to offspring. According to an article in Smithsonian Magazine, as sperm travels the male reproductive system, they jettison and acquire non-genetic cargo.

These modifications communicate a father’s current state of health and have consequences on the viability of future offspring. Factors like diet and stress are capable of turning up or down our genes.

Scientists know genes are not the whole package. Our genomes stay as they originally were, but, how, when and why we follow genetic instructions can differ without altering the manual. This process is epigenetics and it explains why identical twins in similar environments look and act in different ways.

The legacy of a dad’s behavior can even live on in his child if his epigenetic elements enter an embryo. Upasna Sharma, a professor of biochemistry at the University of Massachusetts Medical School conducted research on sperm DNA.

She and her colleague noted, in mice, while immature testicular sperm contain DNA identical to that of mature sperm, immature sperm relay different epigenetic information. She was surprised to find that many small RNAs seemed to discard or disintegrate upon entering the early epididymis; the newly vacated sperm reacquired epigenetic intelligence that reflected the father’s state of being.

In her work, Sharma noted that the epigenetic cargo of testicular sperm and late epididymis sperm differed significantly. Nevertheless, they did have a few groups in common.