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Monday, January 11, 2010

Biodiversity and allergy prevalence

Now that one section co-editor has given us a piece of his mind (see our previous post), we asked our other co-editor, Jean Bousquet, MD, PhD, Professor, Montpellier University, to tell us what he thinks is important for allergy/clinical immunology research and practice in 2010, both in Europe and the US:

“The United Nations declared 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity and launched the event with an appeal to the world to save our ecosystems ( Saving our ecosystems is a topic very close to my heart; one that prompted me to commission an article on biodiversity and allergy prevalence for Allergy at the end of my tenure as editor-in-chief, and which was recently published (Haahtela, T., Allergy 2009, 64:1799-1803).

The commissioned article by Tari Haahtela of Helsinki University Hospital discusses how butterflies are used as indicators of environment change. Butterfly environments with a lot of diverse species are the healthiest, while environments with few butterfly species indicate disequilibrium. Connecting the increase of atopic disease with poorly stimulated immune systems in childhood, Dr. Haahtela suggests that urban environments have very low microdiversity, compared to non-urban environments, and that the immature immune system doesn’t get exposed to a sufficiently broad pathogen load. He uses the example of a study of butterfly diversity in Karelia, a geographic area that stretches across Finland and Russia. In Finland, the butterfly populations were isolated and made up of just a few species; in Russia, the butterflies were more diverse and widespread. The Finnish habitat was a developed area, and had higher atopy incidence; the Russian habitat was agricultural and overall atopy incidence was low. Dr. Haahtela discusses genetic research involving human populations from Karelia, focusing on single nucleotide polymorphisms associated with atopy. The research showed that alleles correlated with high risk for allergy in the Finnish developed region were protective in the Russian agricultural region. He suggests that the butterfly diversity model can be applied to the decreased micro-organismal diversity in the Finnish developed region, in that tolerance requires challenge by many micro-organisms and the loss of that diverse stimulation is the cause of our illness.”

We want to hear from you! Please feel free to post your own comments and/or predictions below. Topics and articles that you think would be of interest in our NBOP section and/or this blog can be sent to the JACI Editorial Office at

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