Two hours of exposure to diesel exhaust fumes has proven to show fundamental health-related changes in biology by switching some genes on and others off.
A study put volunteers in a polycarbonate-enclosed booth and had them breath diluted and aged exhaust fumes. These fumes were about equal to the air quality along a Beijing highway. The researchers examined how the exposure affected the chemical coating that attaches to many parts of a person’s DNA. The coating they were referring to is carbon-hydrogen coating, also known as methylation. The coating can silence or dampen a gene and prevent it from producing a protein. Methylation is a mechanism for controlling gene expression.
The study found that diesel exhaust caused changes in methylation located at about 2,800 different places along a person’s DNA, which affects about 400 genes. Some places led to more methylation. How these changes affect health is the next topic of research. However, the AstraZeneca Chair in Occupational and Environmental Lung Disease claims that the fact that DNA methylation was affected from only two hours of exposure is a positive implication; when something happens that quickly, it usually means you can reverse it through either therapy, change in environment, or change in diet.
This article is very similar to what we are learning about methylation and epigenetics. It discusses how the environment can affect someone’s genes and their gene expression as opposed to solely being their DNA sequence. I found this interesting because diesel exhaust is something people are exposed to everyday and it is important to know the affects it can have other than just respiratory issues.