Research reveals air pollution can alter the effectiveness of antibiotics and increases the potential of disease
Streptococcus pneumoniae with black carbon
Leicester research reveals the impact of black carbon on bacteria in the respiratory tract
Researchers from the University have for the first time discovered that bacteria that cause respiratory infections are directly affected by air pollution - increasing the potential for infection and changing the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment.
The interdisciplinary study, which has been published in the journal Environmental Microbiology, has important implications for the treatment of infectious diseases, which are known to be increased in areas with high levels of air pollution.
The study looked into how air pollution affects the bacteria living in our bodies, specifically the respiratory tract – the nose, throat and lungs.
A major component of air pollution is black carbon, which is produced through the burning of fossil fuels such as diesel, biofuels, and biomass.
The research shows that this pollutant changes the way in which bacteria grow and form communities, which could affect how they survive on the lining of our respiratory tracts and how well they are able to hide from, and combat, our immune systems.
Dr Julie Morrissey, Associate Professor in Microbial Genetics in the University of Leicester’s Department of Genetics and lead author on the paper, said: “This work increases our understanding of how air pollution affects human health. It shows that the bacteria which cause respiratory infections are affected by air pollution, possibly increasing the risk of infection and the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment of these illnesses.
“Our research could initiate an entirely new understanding of how air pollution affects human health. It will lead to enhancement of research to understand how air pollution leads to severe respiratory problems and perturbs the environmental cycles essential for life.”
The World Health Organization describes air pollution as the “largest single environmental health risk”.
Air pollution is thought to be responsible for at least 7 million deaths per year, which equates to an eighth of all global deaths.
The UK and many other countries around the world continue to breach the recommended pollution limits set by the World Health Organization.
The four year study was conducted by a University of Leicester’s College of Medicine, Biological Sciences and Psychology PhD studentship, and research grants from The Leverhulme Trust and the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC).
- The study published in Environmental Microbiology is available here: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1462-2920.13686/full
- Press release