What’s So Important About Fathers?

Yesterday, I read a pretty fascinating article in the new york times (the origin of the image above)  called “Why Fathers Matter” ( http://www.nytimes.com/2012/09/09/opinion/sunday/why-fathers-really-matter.html?pagewanted=all) that talked about how a father’s lifestyle choices can affect the genetics of his offspring.  I thought blogging about this would be a perfect follow-up to this weekend’s POV on lesbian baby showers. 😉

The article puts forward scientific evidence which asserts that the physical impact behavior has on a male’s overall health can indeed encode into his DNA and be passed on to his unborn children.  It reminds me of the sociological theory on behavior-gene feedback that was still kind of “fringe” but up-and coming when I was in undergrad.  The premise of that theory is that both biological traits as well as behavioral instincts can be determined by an animal’s social circumstances and necessary behavioral reactions and encoded into that animals’ genes over time…thus passing on necessary changes in behavior and biology to future generations of offspring.
But the field of study referenced in this article is called Epigenetics.  From the NY Times article:

“Epi,” in Greek, means “above” or “beyond.” Think of epigenetics as the way our bodies modify their genetic makeup. Epigenetics describes how genes are turned on or off, in part through compounds that hitch on top of DNA — or else jump off it — determining whether it makes the proteins that tell our bodies what to do.”

“Epigenetics means that our physical and mental tendencies were not set in stone during the Pleistocene age, as evolutionary psychology sometimes seems to claim. Rather, they’re shaped by the life we lead and the world we live in right now.”

What this means is that, if you are a male, the steam you blow off partying and eating poorly or whatever else you might do in your “bachelor” days can and will have a permanent impact on your genetic structure and ultimately the health and tendencies of the children you father once you decide to settle down.

I am curious to see how this new knowledge about human reproduction will change our behaviors.  Will scientific proof that men who party too hard or have bad health habits can make their offspring less viable be enough of a biological drive to create a healthier society?  Will mean now become even more concerned about their mating rites now that women might start being a bit more choosy about who they choose to pro-create with?  I mean, women already don’t need to get married anymore for the sake of subsistence…we now represent half of the work force and more than half of new college entrants.  Or will trust in the fact that science can solve for anything coupled with unwillingness to change mean we carry on as usual?

It’s a truth and consequences kind of moment.  What do you think will happen next?

One thought on “What’s So Important About Fathers?

  1. Thanks for this article, and the focus on epigenetics. Epigenetics is more like short term physiological memory as compared to DNA which is like long term memory. It is not just over one lifetime.The impact can be transgenerational. What happens to grandparents for instance, especially when they are pregnant in the case of girls, or at adolescence in boys can epigenetically impact the longevity of grandchildren. The key in this instance is this is when the gamites (Sperm/male and Egg/female) form. Here is a link to a paper on this called “Transgenerational response to nutrition, early life circumstances and longevity”: http://www.nature.com/ejhg/journal/v15/n7/abs/5201832a.html

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