Black carbon is one of the main components of the particulate matter in polluted air that we breathe. The effects of particulate matter on human health have been well studied, however, the effects on the bacteria that are responsible for respiratory infections are poorly understood.
A new study by researchers at the University of Leicester has discovered that air pollution changes the way bacteria that cause respiratory infections behave, increasing their potential for infection as well as changing the effectiveness of antibiotic treatment, reports Science News Online
"Our research could initiate an entirely new understanding of how air pollution affects human health. It will lead to enhancement of research to understand how air pollution leads to severe respiratory problems and perturbs the environmental cycles essential for life," says Dr. Julie Morrissey, University of Leicester.
The information gained in the interdisciplinary research will go a long way in formulating better treatment protocols
in infectious diseases, especially in regions where air pollution levels are high. The study looked at bacteria that live in our bodies, focusing on the respiratory tract - The Nose, throat, and lungs.
The research team focused on black carbon, one of the components that make up the particulate matter in air pollution. Black carbon is produced through the burning of fossil fuels such as diesel, biofuels, and biomass. The scientists found that black carbon "drastically changes the development of bacterial biofilms, key aspects of bacterial colonization and survival."
Using colonies of Streptococcus pneumoniae
and Staphylococcus aureus,
their research found that black carbon induced structural, compositional and functional changes in the biofilms of the bacteria. Perhaps more importantly, the carbon affected the biofilms tolerance to multiple antibiotics. The study also found that black carbon allows S. pneumoniae
to spread from the nose to the lungs.
Dr. Shane Hussey and Dr. Jo Purves, the research associates working on the project said: "Everybody worldwide is exposed to air pollution every time they breathe. It is something we cannot limit our exposure to as individuals, but we know that it can make us ill. So we need to understand what it is doing to us, how it is making us unhealthy, and how we might be able to stop these effects."
It is estimated that air pollution is responsible for around 7 million deaths annually, or to put this in perspective, one-eighth of all global deaths. And sadly, many countries continue to breach the air pollution limits set by the World Health Organization.