ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS Atlanta) – A new study has found that as men get older, they develop “mutant sperm,” which increases the risk of fathering a child with a genetic disorder.

Researcher Anne Goriely from the University of Oxford lead the study and stated that “like a slow form of cancer, these mutations cause stem cells in the testicles to divide abnormally, resulting in an increasing proportion of mutant sperm as men age and an ever growing chance of a mutant sperm fertilizing an egg,” New Scientist reported.

“It is something that is happening to all men,” Goriely explained. “The effect is subtle but it is real.”

Rare conditions like Apert syndrome, have recently been tied to some of the sperm mutations causing childhood development to falter in things such as fused toes and fingers.  Researchers also believe that the mutations could cause more common disorders like schizophrenia and autism, which could help explain why those specific conditions are increasingly common.

A “selfish sperm” effect could also make those problems spread, increasing concerns with researchers.

“One such “selfish spermatogonium” arising in the testicles of a young man could give rise to thousands of these mutant stem cells after a decade or two, each carrying a copy of the mutated gene,” researchers wrote. “The proportion of mutant sperm would increase at an exponential rate, rather than linearly.”

Researchers note that that effect has been noticed in small studies, but with conditions only tied to mutated sperm and that more research needs to be done in this area.

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