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Environment Can Damage Genes in Just Three Days

Kathleen Blanchard's picture
Environment and Gene Damage

New findings show that environmental exposure to harmful particulate matter can damage genes in just three days. Researchers from University of Milan tested 63 healthy workers to measure gene damage from DNA methylation, following exposure to particulate matter in a foundry.

Andrea Baccarelli, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of applied biotechnology at the University of Milan says, "The changes were detectable after only three days of exposure to particulate matter, indicating that environmental factors need little time to cause gene reprogramming which is potentially associated with disease outcomes. “ In just three days, four damaged genes associated with tumor suppression were found in the foundry worker’s blood and tissue samples.

Dr. Baccarelli says DNA methylation has been found in blood and tissue samples of patients with lung cancer. The current study was designed to find out “whether exposure to particulate matter induced changes in DNA methylation in blood from healthy subjects who were exposed to high levels of particulate matter in a foundry facility."

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The researchers chose a foundry environment to discover how quickly gene damage occurs because it resembles that of ambient air pollution, known to affect human health.

The good news is that the damage to genes from the environment can be changed. Dr. Baccarelli says, “The changes in DNA methylation we observed are reversible and some of them are currently being used as targets of cancer drugs.”

The study authors say it is important to understand the risk of cancer from the environment because of gene reprogramming. Intervening early could help reverse gene damage that occurs from being exposed to harmful environments. Finding ways to reverse gene damage from DNA methylation could have important implications toward reducing public health risks.

American Thoracic Society