Climate Change Can Increase Allergy Problems

by Gopalan on Aug 24 2009 8:12 PM

Climate change can increase allergy problems, an Australian scientist has shown.

Increased levels of carbon dioxide and higher temperatures are having a direct impact on the incidence of allergens, such as pollen and peanuts, and the allergic disease known as asthma, says Dr Paul Beggs, from the Department of Environment and Geography in the Faculty of Science at Macquarie University.

For his research into the impact of climate change on allergens, he has won this year's OSMR Jamie Callachor Eureka Prize for Medical Research.

The prize is part of the Australian Museum Eureka Prizes, the most prestigious awards in Australian science.

Dr Beggs published the first academic papers on the possible impacts of increasing temperatures and changing rainfall patterns on asthma; air-based allergens (such as pollen) and plant food allergens such as peanuts.

''His research has sparked worldwide interest in the relationship between climate change and allergens,'' says Frank Howarth, Director of the Australian Museum.

''Previously, climate change was not considered as a possible cause of the global increase in asthma, and there was limited appreciation of how it could affect allergenic diseases.''

In 2008, Dr Beggs wrote that climate change, in particular higher temperatures and CO2 emissions, could increase the impact of plant food allergens.

He offered several theoretical explanations for this: some of the allergenic proteins generated by plants are responses to climatic stress. Carbon dioxide and temperature directly affect plant metabolism through photosynthesis; and higher CO2 concentrations cause many plants to have a higher weight of shoots or peanut pods.

Dr Beggs is now conducting glasshouse research into the relationship between increased CO2 and peanut allergen levels.

His authority in this area of research has won international recognition. Dr Beggs was invited to contribute to the ‘Aeroallergens and disease' section of the ‘Human health' chapter of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change's latest Assessment Report.

Dr Beggs' research could also lead to wider fields of investigation: climate-based seasonal forecasting of allergen activity; the impact of land management on allergy outbreaks, and the implications of climate change for the pharmaceutical industry.