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Rate of de novo mutations and the importance of father’s age to disease risk


Mutations generate sequence diversity and provide a substrate for selection. The rate of de novo mutations is therefore of major importance to evolution. Here we conduct a study of genome-wide mutation rates by sequencing the entire genomes of 78 Icelandic parent–offspring trios at high coverage. We show that in our samples, with an average father’s age of 29.7, the average de novo mutation rate is 1.20 × 10−8 per nucleotide per generation. Most notably, the diversity in mutation rate of single nucleotide polymorphisms is dominated by the age of the father at conception of the child. The effect is an increase of about two mutations per year. An exponential model estimates paternal mutations doubling every 16.5 years. After accounting for random Poisson variation, father’s age is estimated to explain nearly all of the remaining variation in the de novo mutation counts. These observations shed light on the importance of the father’s age on the risk of diseases such as schizophrenia and autism.

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Figure 1: A summary of the family types.
Figure 2: Father’s age and number of de novo mutations.
Figure 3: Effect of father’s age by chromosome.
Figure 4: Demographics of Iceland and de novo mutations.


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This research was partly funded by The National Institutes of Health grant MH071425 (K.S.); the European Community’s Seventh Framework Programme, PsychCNVs project, grant agreement HEALTH-F2-2009-223423, and NextGene project, grant agreement IAPP-MC-251592; The European Community IMI grant EU-AIMS, grant agreement 115300.

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Authors and Affiliations



A.K. and K.S. planned and directed the research. A.K. wrote the first draft and together with K.S., S.B., P.S., A.H. and U.T. wrote the final version. O.T.M. and U.T. oversaw the sequencing and laboratory work. G. Masson, G. Magnusson and G.S. processed the raw sequencing data. A.K. and M.L.F. analysed the data, with W.S.W.W., H.H., G.B.W., S.S., G.T. and D.F.G. providing assistance. P.S. and S.A.G. performed functional annotations. S.B. analysed the mutations with respect to sequence content. A.S., Aslaug J. and Adalbjorg J. did the Sanger sequencing. A.H. investigated the contribution of demographics.

Corresponding authors

Correspondence to Augustine Kong or Kari Stefansson.

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Competing interests

The authors from deCODE Genetics are employees of or own stock options in deCODE Genetics. W.S.W.W. is an employee of Illumina Inc., a public company that develops and markets systems for genetic analysis; she receives stocks as part of her compensation.

Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

This file contains Supplementary Text, additional references, Supplementary Table 2 and Supplementary Figure 1. (PDF 937 kb)

Supplementary Data

This file contains Supplementary Table 1 which shows information for each of the 4,933 de novo mutations individually. They correspond to the summary in Supplementary Table 2. The positions are based on Human Assembly Build 36. (XLS 523 kb)

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Kong, A., Frigge, M., Masson, G. et al. Rate of de novo mutations and the importance of father’s age to disease risk. Nature 488, 471–475 (2012).

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