Native Village
Youth and Education news
January 1, 2011 Volume 3

Pollution Can Change Your DNA in 3 Days, Study Suggests
Condensed by Native Village

A new study finds that breathing polluted air may wreak havoc on our DNA. It can reprogram our genes in as few as three days while increasing our risks of cancer and disease.

While the study focused on work air breathed by foundry workers, scientists say the air that city dwellers breathe may be just as damaging. The air is filled with particulate matter -- tiny bits of dust, metal, or soot that can lodge deep in the lungs.  Exposure is linked to respiratory diseases, lung cancer, and heart problems.

Scientists know very little about how particulate matter causes health problems.  What they have learned is that DNA can be damaged by a slowed rate of "methylation." Methylation is the process in which our body organizes genes into different chemical groups.

Fewer chemical groups means that fewer genes are made into proteins. Protein is a crucial process in the body's regular maintenance.

Reduced-size gene groups have also been found in the blood DNA of lung cancer patients.

John Heffner is professor of medicine at Oregon Health and Science University. Heffner, who did not participate in the research, said the study strengthens the link between air particulates and lung cancer.,

"Other investigators have shown that inhalation of particulate matter affects DNA through the methylation process," he said.  "What these investigators have done is show that the genes affected are ones that are known to be related to the development of lung cancer."

Other findings raise the possibility that methylation damage from particulate matter can be slowed or even reversed with folic acid, a vitamin naturally found in many foods.

The vitamin "may make methylation machineries more efficient," said one author of the study. "We found that subjects with higher intakes of methyl nutrients were protected from some of the cardiac effects of particulate matter."

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