Air pollution

Pollution and antimicrobial resistance are two of the major global challenges currently faced, according to the World Health Organisation.

Air pollution prematurely kills estimated 7 million people each year Air pollution is considered by WHO to be the greatest environmental risk to public health.

What constitutes air pollution?

  • Black Carbon - product of fossil fuel combustion
  • Heavy metals - vehicle related (i.e. from break pads)
  • Mineral compounds - product of quarrying
  • Dust - product of agricultural farming
  • Nitrogen Oxides and Sulphur dioxides - through oxidation reactions in the atmosphere

Several projects are currently on-going at the University of Leicester with regards to the synergy of pollution, microbiology and human disease, particularly respiratory disease such as COPD and asthma.

air pollution

The work of Dr Julie Morrissey and colleagues at the University of Leicester, involves the elucidation of how bacteria adapt to air pollution and metal stress including anthropogenic metal pollution of the environment, and how this has impact on bacterial survival in a host and in the environment, and drives antibiotic resistance.

In 2017, the Environment Microbiology accepted a ground-breaking paper written by researchers at this university, showing that air pollution has not only significant effect on bacteria, but that this significance was previously overlooked.

Air pollution concerns both human health and bacterial ecosystems worldwide

This ground-breaking research has shown that showed that a major component of air pollution, Black Carbon (BC) altered two pathogenic bacteria Streptococcus pneumoniae and Staphylococcus aureus biofilm formation, structure and function upon exposure to air pollutants. (Hussey et al.) The biofilms increased in thickness and complexity, and had altered antibiotic resistance.

Dr Morrissey and colleagues also showed that BC alters bacterial colonisation in the host with S. pneumoniae showing increased spread from the nose to the lungs in the presence of BC. 

  • How does air pollution change the way bacteria respond to antibiotics and alter colonisation?
  • What biological mechanisms are altered by air pollutants like black carbon to change the way bacteria spread within the body?

These are the questions our academics have begun to answer, continuing to work in this novel field.

biofilm lifecycle

Mycology and environment

Dr C Pashley works in association with the Midlands Asthma and Allergy Research Association (MAARA). Environment samples have provided pollen counts and fungal spore records for more than 40 years. Dr Pashley’s work is extremely relevant as the fungi Aspergillus fumigatus is a known allergen, in which asthma sufferers are more susceptible to, highlighting a microbe-disease relationship.