Older fathers, autism linked

Risk of passing on genetic mutations increases as potential fathers age

Children of older fathers are more likely to develop autism, schizophrenia and other diseases compared to children of younger fathers, new research suggests.

The study, based on genetic analysis from 78 Icelandic families whose children were diagnosed with autism or schizophrenia, found older fathers pass more new genetic mutations to their children, according to The Wall Street Journal. The genetic mutations in question are found in eggs or sperm cells, but are not the result of parental lineage. Such genetic mistakes are more common in the sperm of older men; a man over 40 is almost six times more likely to father an autistic child than a man under 30. The average age of Icelandic fathers is 33 and on the rise, as it is in most Western countries.

“It is very likely that the rise in the mean age of fathers has made some contribution to the apparent epidemic of autism in our society,” said Kari Stefansson, lead author of the study.