Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Fathers Transmit Diabetes

By Stephen Luntz

Obesity in male mice is a risk factor for their offspring but affects sons and daughters differently, according to a report in The FASEB Journal.

Previous research has found that maternal obesity creates a risk factor for offspring, even if it is a result of diet rather than genetics, and there is also a link between obesity in male mice and diabetes in their female offspring.

However, Dr Tod Fullston of the University of Adelaide’s Robinson Institute has gone further. “For female offspring there is an increased risk of becoming overweight or obese. What we’ve also found is that there is an increased chance of both male and female offspring developing metabolic disease similar to Type 2 diabetes.”

Fullston says it is not clear whether maternal or paternal influences are more significant overall, but adds: “We tend to see fathers having more effect on females and mothers on males. This suggests it is an X chromosome-linked pattern.” However, Fullston says more research is required to confirm what drives this pattern.

“A father’s diet changes the molecular make-up of the sperm. With obese fathers, the changes in their sperm – in their microRNA molecules – might program the embryo for obesity or metabolic disease later in life,” Fullston says.

Male mice consuming high fat diets even affected their grandchildren in Fullston’s study.

“It’s been known for some time that the health of a mother before, during and after pregnancy can impact on her child’s health, but the father’s health during this period is often overlooked,” Fullston says. “If our laboratory studies are translatable to humans, this could be a new and as-yet unexplored intervention window into the epidemic of childhood obesity.”

Fullston observed that even where the mouse showed no symptoms of diabetes themselves, their offspring were more likely to suffer from diabetes when the father had been fed a fattening diet.