Nav: Home

Air pollution may shorten telomeres in newborns -- a sign of increased health risks

January 24, 2018

A study conducted before and after the 2004 closure of a coal-burning power plant in Tongliang, China, found children born before the closure had shorter telomeres than those conceived and born after the plant stopped polluting the air.

Results appear in the journal Environment International.

Telomeres are specialized sections of DNA that allow chromosomes to be faithfully copied during cell division. However, with each round of cell division, telomeres shorten, resulting in a gradual loss of genomic stability. Shortened telomere length has been linked with cancer and heart disease, cognitive decline, aging, and premature death.

Led by Deliang Tang and Frederica Perera at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health, the research team analyzed telomere length in the umbilical cord blood of 255 newborns, about half of whom were born before the plant closure and half conceived and born after. In babies born pre-closure, researchers found higher levels of PAH-DNA cord adducts, a biomarker for exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, a toxic component of air pollution from coal plants. Elevated levels of these adducts in cord blood were associated with shorter telomeres--the first time this relationship has been tested--as well as with lower levels of brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), a protein involved in neuronal grown.

However, telomere length was not associated with developmental score in the subset of 210 children tested at age 2, although the researchers say the finding doesn't rule out telomere length-related neurodevelopmental problems at later ages.

"An individual's telomere length at birth is known to influence their risk for disease decades later during adulthood," says Tang, professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School. "Further follow-up is needed to assess the role telomere length plays in health outcomes in the context of early life exposure to air pollution."

In May 2004, high levels of air pollution in Tongliang prompted the government to shut down the local coal-burning power plant to improve community health. This action, announced in advance, provided a unique opportunity to compare data on ambient PAH levels, biomarkers, and health outcomes in two successive cohorts of children, with and without prenatal exposure to emissions from the coal-fired power plant. In previously published research on these cohorts, the authors reported newborns born after the plant closure had lower levels of PAH-DNA adducts, lower rates of various health outcomes, and increased levels of BDNF.

"The new study adds to the evidence that closing this coal-burning power plant was beneficial to the health and future well-being of newborns there," says Perera, director of the Columbia Center for Children's Environmental Health and professor of Environmental Health Sciences at the Mailman School of Public Health. "Moreover, we know that lowering exposure to air pollution anywhere will be beneficial to children's health and long-term potential."
-end-
Funding for the study was provided by the V. Kann Rasmussen Foundation, the Energy Foundation, the Schmidt Family Foundation, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, and the Porpoise Fund. The authors, who also include Chia-jung Lin and Lirong Qu at Columbia's Mailman School, declare no conflicts.

Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health

Related Air Pollution Articles:

Air pollution may disrupt sleep
High levels of air pollution over time may get in the way of a good night's sleep, according to new research presented at the ATS 2017 International Conference.
Smoking out sources of in-home air pollution
An ambitious study led by San Diego State University researchers has investigated various factors that contribute to air pollution inside the house.
Cities need to 'green up' to reduce the impact of air pollution
The harmful impact of urban air pollution could be combated by strategically placing low hedges along roads in a built-up environment of cities instead of taller trees, a new study has found.
Study measures air pollution increase attributable to air conditioning
A new University of Wisconsin-Madison study shows that the electricity production associated with air conditioning causes emissions of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and carbon dioxide to increase by hundreds to thousands of metric tons, or 3 to 4 percent per degree Celsius (or 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit).
Air pollution may lead to dementia in older women
Tiny air pollution particles -- the type that mainly comes from power plants and automobiles -- may greatly increase the chance of dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.
Where is heavy air pollution in Beijing from?
The heavy haze formation in Beijing is depicted as 'initiated by the regional transport mainly from the coal burning in surrounding areas, and intensified by the local secondary formation originated from the motor vehicles.'
Future PM2.5 air pollution over China
There is a long way to go to mitigate future PM2.5 pollution in China based on the emission scenarios.
Salty snow could affect air pollution in the Arctic
In pictures, the Arctic appears pristine and timeless with its barren lands and icy landscape.
Diabetes: Risk factor air pollution
Exposure to air pollution at the place of residence increases the risk of developing insulin resistance as a pre-diabetic state of type 2 diabetes.
Air pollution exposure may worsen lupus in children
The results of a study presented today at the European League Against Rheumatism Annual Congress (EULAR 2016) show for the first time that an individual's exposure to air pollution may have a direct role in triggering disease activity as well as airway inflammation in children and adolescents with systemic lupus erythematosus.

Related Air Pollution Reading:

Best Science Podcasts 2019

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2019. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

Moving Forward
When the life you've built slips out of your grasp, you're often told it's best to move on. But is that true? Instead of forgetting the past, TED speakers describe how we can move forward with it. Guests include writers Nora McInerny and Suleika Jaouad, and human rights advocate Lindy Lou Isonhood.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#527 Honey I CRISPR'd the Kids
This week we're coming to you from Awesome Con in Washington, D.C. There, host Bethany Brookshire led a panel of three amazing guests to talk about the promise and perils of CRISPR, and what happens now that CRISPR babies have (maybe?) been born. Featuring science writer Tina Saey, molecular biologist Anne Simon, and bioethicist Alan Regenberg. A Nobel Prize winner argues banning CRISPR babies won’t work Geneticists push for a 5-year global ban on gene-edited babies A CRISPR spin-off causes unintended typos in DNA News of the first gene-edited babies ignited a firestorm The researcher who created CRISPR twins defends...