Father’s Environmental Exposure Affects Sperm Epigenetics

Research team lead by Dr. J.R.Pilsner at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst found that expectant fathers who are exposed to high levels of phthalate may experience epigenetic modifications in their sperm DNA which in turn effects couples’ reproductive success. Details are published in the journal Human Reproduction. Phthalates are chemical plasticizers and are found in an array of products especially in personal care items such as shaving creams, body lotions, and even fragrances. Phthalates are estimated to be detectable in almost 100% of the U.S population.


Exposure to a phthalate, which interrupts with hormones and may result in changes in the male reproductive measures such as androgen levels and semen quality. Semen samples of different individuals were collected and DNA from the sperm cells was extracted and analyzed on a genomic system to examine DNA methylation sites. They observed that some methylated DNA regions may be linked with poor blastocyst stage of the embryo. Further, the researchers were interested to observe changes in sperm DNA methylation in the presence of phthalate could affect early-life development.

Dr.Pilsner adds “It doesn’t surprise me that sperm carries some sort of environmental legacy to the next generation. What the sperm cell encounters during its development can influence these chemical tags or DNA methylated, and it may well have an effect on the developing embryo and offspring.”

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