Air pollution affects the functioning of our genes

Air pollution has been linked to a set (and growing) of ailments, from relatively minor conditions to debilitating conditions. Even babies in the womb can be affected by it. Nowadays diseases caused by air pollution are getting severe more and more.

Air pollution affects the functioning of our genes

This should not surprise even lay people. To stay alive, we must continue to breathe and, in doing so, continue to inhale harmful particles in the air from the exhaust gases of vehicles, industrial plants, fires and coal-fired power plants.

These harmful particles accumulate in our bodies over time, affecting the functioning of our organs from our lungs to our heart and our brain. In fact, they even have an impact on our genes, new research shows . A team of scientists from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, investigated how air pollutants from diesel exhaust influence the functioning of certain genes.

To do so, they asked some volunteers to breathe diesel gases for two hours or more in a small enclosed space to see if doing so would have an epigenetic effect by activating or deactivating certain genes. The level of pollution to which the volunteers were exposed was similar to that of a highway in Beijing, one of the most polluted cities on the planet. Other volunteers were allowed to breathe more fresh air and less polluted air.

Then, the scientists took blood samples from both groups. They discovered that those who were exposed to high levels of diesel exhaust had changes in some 2,800 different points in their DNA, which affected about 400 genes in total. This effect was not observed in people who breathed clean air.

This experiment showed that air pollution can alter our DNA, although it has not yet been explored what effect it can have on our health. However, it is safe to say that these changes are not beneficial for our overall long-term health. That should be a matter of serious concern, as more than nine people in 10 worldwide live in areas where air pollution levels replace those considered healthy by the World Health Organization.

Throughout history, people have always been exposed to airborne contaminants, from cooking fires and other sources. During the era of Ancient Rome, for example, air pollution levels throughout Europe skyrocketed considerably. However, only since the Industrial Revolution, where coal was burned on an industrial scale, more and more people have been exposed to increasingly higher levels of air pollution for longer and longer periods.

Since the vehicles that consumed gas took effect in towns and cities, air pollution has increased even more. These days there is not a town, much less a city, in any place that does not have at least some degree of air pollution. Meanwhile, in constantly expanding urban areas, airborne toxins now ruin the lives of millions and millions of people.

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