Birds With Older Father Die Sooner Than Those With Young Dad, Chromosome Changes May Be To Blame

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Only five percent of birds fathered by an older male survived past one year Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty Images

The chromosomes of finches born from older fathers have traits associated with a shorter life expectancy than the finches conceived by younger dads, revealed a new study published online in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B . The findings may help researchers better understand the association between father's age and children's longevity in humans.

Researchers looked at the telomeres of zebra finch embryos conceived by either young or older male finches. Telomeres are often referred to as the "caps" at the end of our DNA. They protect our chromosomes from damage during cell division. Telomere length is a good indication of longevity, as when they get too short cells that can no longer function properly.

In the study, the team bred 32 middle aged female zebra finches with 16 four month old males and then 16 four year old males, The Scientist reported. The birds typically live between five to eight years, so these were considered older males. Breeding resulted in a total of 139 eggs. The eggs were incubated for several days before the researchers analyzed the embryos inside.

Related: Older Fathers May Determine Health Of The Baby More Than Moms Do, Study Shows

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Only five percent of birds fathered by an older male survived past one year Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Analysis of the embryos revealed an association between a father's age and telomere length in the embryos' chromosomes. Embryos fathered by older finches had telomeres that were 10 percent shorter than those of embryos fathered by the four day old finches, The Scientist reported.

To further investigate the effect that parental age had on offspring longevity, the team then bred 44 pairs of birds with different age combinations. For example, age combinations included young females bred with older males and older females bred with older males. The offspring of these matches were then followed and their age of death documented. Results revealed that having an older mother and an older father resulted in earlier death for the birds. However, the effect was stronger in birds with an older father. For example, only five percent of birds fathered by an older male survived past one year, but nearly 80 percent of birds with a young father survived past one year. However, in this part of the study it was not clear if telomere length was the cause between the father's age and offspring longevity association.

Related: Waiting To Have Kids? Older Dads Have Geeky Sons With Higher IQs

DNA is organized into strands called chromosomes. The protective telomeres on the ends of the chromosomes shorten naturally with age. Cell division is a necessary part of life, and allows us to grow and heal. Each time a cell divides the telomeres get shorter as the telomere allows cells to divide without losing precious genes. When the telomeres become too short, cells no longer divide properly, which can result in illness or death in the individual.

It's not clear if the zebra finch research can be translated into humans. However, past research has suggested that older dads may pass on more genetic mutations to their offspring than age-matched mothers. The team plan to further investigate the effects of father's age on offspring telomeres.

Birds With Older Father Die Sooner Than Those With Young Dad, Chromosome Changes May Be To Blame | Tech & Science
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