A team of researchers has found that a father’s diet can affect their sons’ sperm quality—at least in the case of fruit flies. The findings, which may apply to humans, show that a high protein diet can help a father’s future sons reproduce. The details are in a paper that was just published in the journal Biology Letters.
It’s well-known that a woman’s diet before and during pregnancy can affect her future children. The topic has been studied extensively in both humans and other animals. Researchers have tended to neglect the father’s diet, however, because it’s generally been assumed that it doesn’t affect offspring. In the past, scientists believed that a father passed on their DNA but otherwise didn’t impact the pregnancy or their future children.
Researchers from Monash University in Australia collaborated with scientists from George Washington University to study the effects of paternal diets on fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) offspring. Fruit flies are commonly used as model organisms in research because they share genes with humans, are easy to keep, and reproduce quickly. The team fed male fruit flies diets with varying levels of protein and then tracked the reproductive success of their sons.
The research team found that male flies that had been raised on a high protein diet produced sons that were more likely to reproduce once mature. Specifically, these sons had different levels of gene expression and more competitive sperm. The sons of males that had been fed the high protein diet produced sperm that were able to easily out-compete the sperm of sons who had fathers raised on a low protein diet.
The team’s findings show that in fruit flies, a high protein paternal diet has a significant effect on the ability of their sons to reproduce in the future. It’s unknown if these effects translate to humans but the study provides evidence that it’s not just the mother’s diet that matters. Instead, it’s more likely that the diet of both parents can have an impact on offspring.
Zajitschek et al. High-protein paternal diet confers an advantage to sons in sperm competition. Biology Letters (2017).