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Knowledge Gained from Marine Ecosystem Might Help Protect Climate, Health of Earth

Air pollution has adverse impacts on human health, such as the elevated risk of stroke and heart disease.

Image Credit: Mr Nai/

A study published recently in The Journal of Physiology by scientists at The University of Manchester reveals that the present knowledge related to how pollution affects the hearts of marine species is applicable to humans, as the fundamental mechanisms are similar.

Simply put, insights gained from the marine ecosystem might help safeguard the climate and health of Earth, while also protecting human health.

In the United Kingdom, each year, nearly 11,000 deaths related to coronary heart disease and stroke are attributable to air pollution, caused in particular by particulate matter (PM), or small particles in the air that lead to health issues. PM2.5, which is one of the finest and most hazardous types of PM, is a compound for which the United Kingdom has failed to meet the EU limits.

Scientists who performed this research investigated all vertebrates and paid specific attention to a set of compounds that attaches itself to the surface of PM, known as polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH). This is because the amount of PAH on PM is related to the harmful effect that air pollution has on the heart.

Although air pollution has been known to be harmful to humans, in reality, it became an extensively studied topic only in the past five years or so. However, in marine species, the mechanism of how PAH pollution leads to heart problems is well understood.

Studies following the 1999 Exxon Valdez oil spill demonstrated that the ecosystem still has not recovered even after 20 years. In 2010, investigations on fish following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, which discharged huge quantities of PAHs into the marine environment, revealed that the ability of the heart to contract was affected.

Pollution affects all of us living on Planet Earth. Due to the conserved nature of cardiac function amongst animals, fish exposed to PAH from oil spills can serve as indicators, providing significant insights into the human health impacts of PAHs and PM air pollution.

Dr Holly Shiels, Study Senior Author, The University of Manchester

According to Dr Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director at the British Heart Foundation, which partially funded the study, “We know that air pollution can have a hugely damaging effect on heart and circulatory health, and this review summarises mechanisms potentially contributing to impaired heart function.”

Reducing air pollution is crucial to protecting our heart health, which is why the BHF is calling on the next Government to commit to reducing air pollution to within WHO limits.

Dr Jeremy Pearson, Associate Medical Director, British Heart Foundation


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