We've updated our Privacy Policy to make it clearer how we use your personal data. We use cookies to provide you with a better experience. You can read our Cookie Policy here.


Novel Molecular Epigenetic Mechanism That Responds to Air Pollution Identified

Large smoke clouds coming from factories.
Credit: Ralf Vetterle / Pixabay.
Listen with
Register for free to listen to this article
Thank you. Listen to this article using the player above.

Want to listen to this article for FREE?

Complete the form below to unlock access to ALL audio articles.

Read time: 1 minute

The epigenetic response is common to many types of particulate exposure, and found in many organisms. 

Our research offers a promising step towards a more comprehensive understanding of the impacts of particulate matter, including viruses, on biological systems and the environment, while contributing to the development of faster and more reliable toxicity tests which are closer to planetary health models,” summarizes Professor Dario Greco from the University of Helsinki.

Predicting the long-term effects of nanomaterial exposure

It is already well known that exposure to environmental factors contributes to disease susceptibility by impacting the epigenome.

“We discovered a novel epigenetic mechanism underlying the response to nanoparticulate exposure in multiple organisms. Our discovery offers a novel way to study long-term responses of cells, tissues, and entire organisms to many particulate exposures,” says Greco.

Want more breaking news?

Subscribe to Technology Networks’ daily newsletter, delivering breaking science news straight to your inbox every day.

Subscribe for FREE

The possibility that nanoparticles could somehow epigenetically re-program biological systems provides an additional dimension to assess their impact on health and the environment.

“In this sense, our results highlight the need to correctly identify chronic effects of nanoparticles’ intentional and unintentional exposure, with possibly important epidemiological implications,” explains Greco.

One step closer to planetary health

The findings of Greco’s research group revealed that a wide range of species across the tree of life respond to particulate exposure by activating molecular regulations mediated by an ancestral epigenetic mechanism that is also present in non-specialized cells and simpler organisms.

According to Greco, this is an important step towards closing the scientific dichotomy, which thus far has focused on either human or environmental implications of the engineered nanomaterials production. Greco’s new discovery embraces the interconnectedness and interdependence of the health of humans, animals, and the environment, towards a planetary health model.

Assessing biological responses to nanomaterials requires faster and more reliable methods

Both the size and composition of nanoparticles give them unique properties, distinct from other chemicals.

Currently, toxicologists must test each nanomaterial individually to evaluate its health and environmental implications, but the available tests are species-specific and focus mainly on acute responses. With the increasingly widespread use of – and exposure to – nanoparticles in everyday life, faster and more reliable methods are needed to assess their potential toxicity across multiple species, and to determine the longer-term consequences.

“Our research helps to fill this gap in the field, paving the way for a new generation of tests that can simultaneously investigate the impact of nanoparticles across species, contributing to the reduction of animal experimentation and streamlining the process to multiple engineered nanomaterials with disparate physicochemical characteristics,” Greco highlights. 

Reference: Del Giudice G, Serra A, Saarimäki LA, et al. An ancestral molecular response to nanomaterial particulates. Nat Nanotechnol. 2023. doi: 10.1038/s41565-023-01393-4

This article has been republished from the following materials. Note: material may have been edited for length and content. For further information, please contact the cited source.