Air pollution increases cases of respiratory diseases and risks for other critical illnesses such as heart disease. How it affects our body’s condition can be linked to its effect on the diversity of microbes existing in our respiratory tracts, according to a study conducted by researchers from the University of Milan.
The study shows that air particulates tend to decrease the microbial diversity in our airways. More importantly, it seems that the higher the density of pollutants in ambient air, the lower the concentration of good bacteria and the higher the concentration of bad bacteria in our respiratory tracts.
The team, led by Jacob Mariani, executed the study by taking nasal swabs of 40 people and identified the various types of bacteria present using genetic sequencing. The resulting populations of bacteria were then correlated to the air pollution level recorded by monitoring stations. Aside from lower diversity of microbes, higher air pollution level was linked to a decrease in the concentration of Actinobacteria and an increase in the population of Moraxella.
Actinobacteria, the dominant group in a healthy biome, is known for producing chemical compounds that have anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. On the other hand, Moraxella is a group of bacteria that can cause harmful respiratory infections.
The results, however, are still preliminary to conclude a concrete relationship between air pollution and microbial diversity and functions. As Lidwen Smit of Utrecht University says, “You’re inhaling stuff that might cause inflammatory responses in your airways, so it’s extremely likely that the airway microbiome is a sort of mediator between pollution and respiratory effects… but this area of research is still in its infancy.”