Paternal jeopardy

Fathers may be responsible for birth defects in their offspring (New Scientist, Vol 136 No 1843). Research using animal models suggests some miscarriages, birth defects and children's diseases can be blamed on the lifestyles and occupations of the fathers.

Scientists thought sperm damaged by exposure to radiation or toxic chemicals was unlikely to fertilise an egg. But new findings indicate sperm with even gross changes such as an extra chromosome have the same chance as a healthy sperm of reaching the egg.

Epidemiologists have recently linked cancer in children with fathers who smoke and low birth weight with alcoholism. Textile industry workers have been associated with increased risks of stillbirth, and mechanics, steel workers or men who deal with organic solvents can increase the risk of miscarriage.