Farmland Microorganisms May Protect Children from Asthma
Growing up on a farm may benefit kids in several ways such as access to cleaner air, more exercise, and fresh vegetables. An international team of researchers has also found that the exposure to a greater range of microorganisms may also protect children from developing asthma.
Certain Bacteria and Fungi May Enhance Immune System
Asthma is the most common chronic illness affecting kids and is a leading cause of missed school days. The disease results from a combination of genetic and environmental factors that cause inflammation in the airways and shortness of breath. The complications of asthma can be severe and life-threatening.
Dr. Markus J. Ege and Professor Erika von Mutius at the University Children’s Hospital Munich conducted two cross-sectional studies which compared children living on farms with non-farm dwelling rural children living nearby. They collected household dust from the 933 European children’s bedrooms and analyzed the bacterial and fungal DNA in the samples.
School-aged children who lived on farms were about 30 to 50% less likely to have asthma than those in the reference group. The farm children were also exposed to more bacteria and fungi than the non-farm kids, which seem to act as guardians for health – the more diverse the microbial population, the lower the risk of asthma.
It is not known how the microbes protect against the disease, but Dr. Ege suggests that a particular combination of species introduced early in life may protect against both asthma and allergies by helping the immune system develop normally. He notes certain species of bacilli and staphylococci which may be of “special interest.”
The team hopes to identify specific bacteria that may be protective with a long-term goal of identifying a candidate that would serve as the basis of a live vaccine against asthma.
Exposure to Environmental Microorganisms and Childhood Asthma
Markus J. Ege, M.D., Erika von Mutius, M.D. et al for the GABRIELA Transregio 22 Study Group, N Engl J Med 2011; 364:701-709 February 24, 2011