In September, The Finnish Society of Sciences And Letters gathered together leading academics and professionals to discuss some of the most pressing climate issues.
Two that were extremely relevant to the work of Uute Scientific were those by Professor Tari Haahtela (HUS, Inflammation Center) on “Biodiversity and health” and by Aki Sinkkonen, who is Principal Scientist at the Natural Resources Institute on “Changing Living Environment and Immune Response – Correlations or Causalities?”
“Biodiversity and health”
Professor Haahtela began by explaining that biodiversity is key to all life on earth and its stability in both the macro and micro world. This is the Biodiversity Hypothesis that was first discussed in 1992.
He emphasised that humans are part of nature, not separate from it. In fact, the human body itself is an ecosystem – a holobiont. For instance, human skin has a very rich biota in normal times; however, during infections, the situation is reversed.
Haahtela went on to review a landmark study carried out in Karelia. It found that after the division of Karelia between Russia and Finland, a raised sensitivity to pollen was seen in the increasingly urbanised Finnish children. Further, Russian youths had much richer and more diverse skin and nasal microbiota, with food allergies being virtually non-existent.
Using the learnings from this research, a 10-year study was created – the Allergy and Asthma program. This program looked at moving away from immune response avoidance towards immune tolerance – for instance, encouraging better contact with nature. A €2Mn education program followed that resulted in an estimated €1.2Bn savings due to the reduction in productivity loss.
Haahtela finished his presentation by describing the ‘Natural Step to Health’ program—an ongoing regional health and environmental program encouraging exposure to nature, exercise, and a more balanced diet to improve overall health.
A video of his lecture can be found here.
“Changing Living Environment and Immune Response – Correlations or Causalities?”
Sinkkonen presented an overview of studies relating to urban and rural environments and the immune response and began by discussing that even though child mortality is now low in many developed countries, the rate of non-communicable diseases is exceptionally high.
With more extreme weather conditions, such as dry spells and sandstorms, he commented it is likely that children will be less exposed to microbial biodiversity. Sinkkonen then presented his world-first studies on how urbanisation reduces microbial transfer. It was seen that higher gamma proteobacterial biodiversity was found in children exposed to the green environment and that their immunoregulation was enhanced.
Sinkkonen and his team are carrying out longer outdoor and indoor studies, with the results being available in two years’ time.
A video of his presentation can be found here.
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