Study: Air Pollution Is More Likely To Make You Sick Than Inherited Risk Factors (Genetics)

A study from Ontario Institute for Cancer Research revealed the relationship between environmental toxins and gene expression. The research adds to the field of study called epigenetics, which means that there are environmental and external factors leading genetic expression. A person’s health destiny is not mainly because of inherited genes but instead, some environmental factors can change DNA.

After they have analyzed 1.6 million data points from health questionnaires, environmental datasets, and biological specimens, researchers concluded that respiratory diseases aren’t necessarily the result of bad genetic ancestry. Pollutants present in the air are more likely to change one’s genes expression, thus causing chronic diseases.

The researchers looked to the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP) which differentiates lifestyle, environmental, and genetic factors in the development of chronic diseases. Their aim is to investigate the role of pollutants in causing chronic diseases. The researchers linked the deep changes in gene expression of the participants to the environmental information in Quebec.

The senior author of the study, named Dr. Philip Awadalla said:

“We were surprised to find that we were able to stratify genetic ancestry within Quebec, identifying individuals whose descendants were from Montreal versus Saguenay for example. This helped us to show how most gene expression is not derived by ancestry, and that environmental exposures associated with living in a particular city or region are more impactful on gene expression associated with disease traits than heritable variation.”

An example is that the higher levels of particulate matter and nitrous dioxide in Saguenay directly affects the gene expression for oxygen pathways and respiratory function and this leads to a higher occurrence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma.

There were also genetic variants identified in people. These variants control gene expression yet respond in a different way when exposed to different stimuli or pollutants. Not all genes interact with environmental exposures in the same way. Some variants help adapt or modulate the response of a person to pollution.