‘Smog interacts with human genetic code, damages well being’
Little is known about how damaging environmental factors can be on human health, but experts found that air-borne pollutants have a bigger effect than ancestry.
Fossil fuels and industrialisation influence how genes are expressed more than the genes themselves, researchers say.
Of all the pollutants studied, sulphur dioxide appears to have the greatest impact on our genome, affecting 170 genes linked to asthma and cardiovascular disease.
The full findings of the study were published in the journal Nature Communications.
Researchers looked at how air pollution levels in Montreal (pictured) compared to less urbanised areas of Quebec, Canada and how that altered the expression of a person’s genetic code. They found air pollution is more influential than your genome
Researchers from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research looked at the genes of more than 1,000 native Canadians from a range of cities and towns.
Their genetic roots divided them to either French-Canadian or European ancestry.
The team collected data on common air pollutants including nitrogen dioxide, sulphur dioxide and ozone, as well as solid specks of particles that are breathed deep into the lungs.
They found that there was no significant split between the two ancestral groups when it came to developing diseases and that environmental factors played a much larger part.
The more populous the city, the greater the increases of disease, including that were found.
Also, a new study performed by the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) —a centre supported by the “la Caixa” Foundation— and the Erasmus University Medical Center of Rotterdam has linked exposure to residential air pollution during fetal life with brain abnormalities that may contribute to impaired cognitive function in school-age children.
The study, published in Biological Psychiatry, reports that the air pollution levels related to brain alterations were within those considered to be safe.
The study showed for the first time a relationship between air pollution exposure and a difficulty with inhibitory control—the ability to regulate self-control over temptations and impulsive behavior—which is related to mental health problems such as addictive behavior and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.
Exposure to fine particles during fetal life was associated with a thinner cortex—the outer layer of the brain— in several areas of both hemispheres, which is one of the factors that may explain the observed impairment in inhibitory control.
The study used a population-based cohort in the Netherlands, which enrolled pregnant women and followed the children from fetal life onward. Researchers assessed air pollution levels at home during the fetal life of 783 children. The data were collected by air pollution monitoring campaigns, and included levels of nitrogen dioxide and course and fine particles. Brain morphology was assessed using brain imaging performed when the children were between 6 and 10 years old.
The relationship between fine particle exposure, brain structure alterations, and inhibitory control was found despite the fact that the average residential levels of fine.