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Loss of a father leaves its mark in the child’s DNA

A fascinating piece of research related to father loss is highlighted by an article at Family Studies. Most studies of the effects on a child losing his or her father through death, divorce or incarceration, rely on survey questions to measure health.

But the new research, published in the US journal Pediatrics  this month, took a biological approach, using DNA samples from children and examining telomere length. The results were significant, as co-author Daniel Notterman explained to IFS editor Alysse ElHage.

The children were from a group of nearly 5000 born between 1998 and 2000 (about three-quarters of them to unmarried parents) and being followed by the Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing Study. These families are called fragile because they are at greater risk of breaking up.

The DNA samples were taken when the children were 9 and again when they were 15.

Unless you know something about inner workings of DNA you may not have come across the term telomere. This is a structure found at the ends of chromosomes and its function is to protect the end of the chromosome from deterioration or from fusion with neighbouring chromosomes. Shortening of telomeres is associated with ageing, but also with chronic stress in both adults and children.

The researchers hypothesised that father loss would be associated with telomere attrition, and so it turned out to be. Since chronic stress is also linked with heart disease and behavioural issues, it is not clear whether accelerated telomere attrition is just a biomarker for these other health effects, or actually plays a causal role, says Notterman.

Read more at MercatorNet – https://www.mercatornet.com/family_edge/view/loss-of-a-father-leaves-its-mark-in-the-childs-dna/20321

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