Professor Simon Creer, a Professor in Molecular Ecology Georgina Brennan, Postdoctoral Research Officer, at the School on Natural Sciences release work using DNA analysis that may help allergy sufferers. With climate change hitting us hard our winters are becoming warmer, the plants are blooming earlier, it is expected that up to 400m people worldwide will develop allergic reactions to airborne pollen from trees, grasses and weeds. Symptoms will range from itchy eyes, congestion and sneezing, to the aggravation of asthma and an associated cost to society that runs into the billions.
Creer and colleges at PollerGEN, have been working on methods to improve the accuracy of pollen counts and forecasts. The team aims to find out what species of pollen are present across Britain throughout the grass flowering season. The development of new wave approaches including molecular genetics are being used to identify different airborne grass pollens, which is notoriously hard when incorporating older established methods. One method developed by PollerGEN to identify the pollen relies on using DNA sequencing to examine millions of short sections of DNA, known as barcode markers. Such markers are unique to each species of Pollen. Such methods are known as metabarcoding and can be used to analyse DNA derived from mixed communities of organisms. In this circumstance, it has allowed the team to analyse pollen DNA collected by aerial samplers at 14 rooftop locations across Britain.
By referring to the UK plant DNA barcode library they were able to identify different species of grass pollen from air samples. This has allowed them to understand the distribution of grass pollen throughout the UK. The research undertaken by PollerGEN is more than just an attempt to understand plants at a deeper level, other research undertaken by the team suggest that over-the-counter medications are not uniform throughout the grass flowering season. This means that certain types of grass pollen may be contributing more to allergenic disease than others. This also means that when symptoms are particularly bad, a specific species of grass pollen may be in the cause. Understanding this may lead to the development of more effective medications to reduce the symptoms of such allergies.