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Biodiversity, Allergies & Asthma

May 22, 2012

People who live around fewer varieties of plants, and whose skin carries fewer kinds of bacteria, are more likely to have allergies.



Microbes vs. allergies…I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Urban living limits your interaction with wildlife. Now, a new report from scientists in Finland suggests this may contribute to allergies and asthma. University of Helsinki population biologist Illka Hanski and his colleagues studied a group of Finnish teenagers. The more allergic subjects tended to live in areas with fewer farms and forests, and their yards had fewer species of plants.

ILLKA HANSKI (University of Helsinki):
Most surprisingly, we found that greater diversity of one class of bacteria, gamma-protobacteria, on the skin of individuals, was associated with healthiness.

People carrying one particular type of bacteria, called Acinetobacter,  also had higher levels of IL-10, an anti-inflammatory molecule that can suppress allergies and asthma.  The findings may help scientists understand why asthma and allergies are found primarily in industrialized countries. I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the Science Society.

Finnish teenagers growing up near farms and forests develop fewer allergies than those growing up in cities. (Susanne Bard/AAAS)