Blame Dear *Old* Dad
Arun has already noted this story, that the link between paternal age and autism seems very strong. The problem, it seems, is that mutations accumulate in the germ cell line so that a older fathers pass many more such mutations to their offspring.
The findings also counter the longstanding assumption that the age of the mother is the most important factor in determining the odds of a child having developmental problems. The risk of chromosomal abnormalities, like Down syndrome, increases for older mothers, but when it comes to some complex developmental and psychiatric problems, the lion’s share of the genetic risk originates in the sperm, not the egg, the study found.
Previous studies had strongly suggested as much, including an analysis published in April that found that this risk was higher at age 35 than 25 and crept up with age. The new report quantifies that risk for the first time, calculating how much it accumulates each year.
The research team found that the average child born to a 20-year-old father had 25 random mutations that could be traced to paternal genetic material. The number increased steadily by two mutations a year, reaching 65 mutations for offspring of 40-year-old men.
The average number of mutations coming from the mother’s side was 15, no matter her age, the study found.
These mutations commonly show their teeth in mental illness, presumably because so many genes are involved in brain building.