Study finds air pollution is more likely to make you sick than inherited risk factors (genetics)
04/04/2018 // Lance D Johanson // Views

Researchers from the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research have found a relationship between gene expression and environmental toxins. Their research adds to the field of study called epi-genetics, which means there are external and environmental factors governing genetic expression. In other words, inherited genes do not have the ultimate say over a person’s health destiny. Environmental factors can change DNA. See the full study at

After analyzing 1.6 million data points from biological specimens, health questionnaires, and environmental datasets, the researchers concluded that respiratory diseases aren’t necessarily the result of bad genetic ancestry. The pollutants in the air are more likely to alter one’s gene expression, causing chronic disease. (Related: Science bombshell as new research confirms non-genetic inheritance factors are carried through multiple generations.)

To investigate the role of pollutants in causing chronic disease, the researchers looked to the Canadian Partnership for Tomorrow Project (CPTP) which differentiates environmental, lifestyle, and genetic factors involved in the development of chronic diseases. The researchers linked environmental information in Quebec to signatures of deep alteration in gene expression from participants.

"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," said the study’s senior author, Dr. Philip Awadalla. "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."

For example, gene expression for oxygen pathways and respiratory function were directly affected by higher levels of particulate matter and nitrous dioxide in Saguenay. This led to higher incidence of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma.

The researchers also identified genetic variants in people. These variants control gene expression, but these variants respond differently when exposed to different pollutants/stimuli. Not all genes interact with environmental exposures in the same way. Some genetic variants help modulate or adapt a person's response to pollution.

The real quest is identifying and eliminating the pollutants that manipulate genetic expression in humans. (For more research on how pollutants affect genetic expression and cause disease, visit Pollution.News.)

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