Parents may threat at the idea of their children playing in fields and sheds, but research shows that those who grew up in farms, where this is common occurrence, are less likely to suffer from allergies and asthma. Prof. Erika von Mutius leads a team of researchers, that uses this knowledge to investigate how we could treat such conditions more effectively.
City dwellers will be interested to know that their children are five times more likely to develop asthma or allergies, respiratory conditions that will affect around half of the European population before 2025 and remain, so far, without a cure. The ERC project HERA, led by Prof. von Mutius, from LMU Munich, focuses on what determines this type of protection.
By using the latest innovative high throughput DNA sequencing techniques, Prof. von Mutius has highlighted the role of microbes in reducing the occurrence of these conditions. With her ERC grant, the researcher collected samples from children with different backgrounds and disease profiles to understand the composition of fungi and bacteria they were exposed to and analyse the substances these microorganisms produce. In addition, Prof. von Mutius was able to study the genetic susceptibility of specific individuals. This allowed her team to investigate the link between environmental factors, such as microbial exposure from a farm, and genetic factors in determining the occurrence of these conditions.
By describing, for the first time, the world of microbes that inhabit our body, in higher numbers than even our human cells, Prof. von Mutius discovered the importance of coming in contact with a diverse range of the right microorganisms. She even highlighted the protective role of certain bacterial and fungal chemicals, such as endotoxins and extracellular polysaccharides. The discoveries made during this study could help reduce the fear many allergic or asthmatic patients feel when spring approaches.