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Anna Crist

student researcher , University of Oregon

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Purell now, Bacteri-ell later?

The hygiene hypothesis, the idea that “too much cleanliness prevents the development of a well-balanced immune response”(Sironi and Clerici, 2010), has received a lot of support and also criticism. It has recently been challenged by the hypothesis of “early immune challenge”, which states that a lack of appropriate immune stimulation during early childhood might account for the increased development of allergies in industrialized countries (Kramer et al, 2013). This proposal places less emphasis on excessive hygienic practices and focuses more on the insufficient exposure to specific environmental microbes, particularly those from non-urban environments, as the reason behind the rise of atopic disease. While different, both hypotheses point to the beneficial health affects of some microbes.

What do you think is the reason for increased allergy levels in industrialized countries? Do you think that a concoction of the “right” microbial species in the form of a lotion, drink, or inhalant (aka "Bacteri-ell") could be a future replacement for natural exposure to beneficial microbes?
Instead of using hand sanitizers like Purell, do you see a future where people from some regions of the world are unsanitizing their hands with “Bacteri-ell”?

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    Jon Cox

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    Apr 30 2013: "What do you think is the reason for increased allergy levels in industrialized countries?"

    It's a little off topic but one interesting reason is that back in the day, in the U.S. anyway, we chose to plant species of trees in our cities that happened to release very little pollen into the immediate atmosphere. Well 50 or 60 years ago we began planting more and more species in our urban environments that happen to produce LOTS of pollen. In addition to this, because they do not drop seedpods or fruit and are thus less "messy", male trees (some species produce flowers with both male and female parts while other species are made up of individuals which are either male OR female) are often very popular, and guess what male trees might make lots and lots of.... POLLEN. Our choice of landscaping in the last half century or so has greatly contributed to our allergy troubles.

    Here's a good article about it: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/06/opinion/06ogren.html
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      Apr 30 2013: Interesting point Jon! I think this is a very good explanation for increases in allergies in industrialized countries. I would think that we'd start to develop an immune response to this increased pollen. Now I know that 50-60 years in the evolutionary scheme of things, but seeing how quickly microbes can develop resistances to antibiotics (penicilin comes to mind), I would think that our own immune systems could adapt as quickly. I know that we do have many more cellular processes than prokaryotic organisms, which may be accounting for our increased time to develop allergic resistances?
    • May 1 2013: I agree. I believe that the increase in allergies in industrialized areas is due to multiple factors, not just the over-cleansing-of-bacteria. True, much has been pushed forth in terms of understanding the micro-biome, but I believe that a combination of ingesting pesticide/genetically-altered foods over multiple years, planting habits in industrialized societies, AND over-cleansing of our micro-biome have contributed to the increasing rate of allergies. I bet if we tackle this problem directly, we'll discover many more factors that have added to this condition, which exist at multiple scales, from the super-micro to the super-macro.
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        May 1 2013: Poor air quality is another major contributor. So yeah there are tons of reasons! And thinking about what Mario said about evolution of resistance to allergens in our immune systems, we should keep in mind that humans have rewritten the book when it comes to evolution thanks to medicine and technology, etc. Natural selection pretty much doesn't apply anymore. Being susceptible to pollen allergies doesn't decrease our chances of surviving and reproducing. Maybe it did in the past, but not anymore. A genetic mutation COULD arise that makes a person immune to pollen, and maybe this happens already, but they will not be more likely to survive and reproduce than anyone else.

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