In 2018, The Lancet Commission reported that pollution is the top environmental risk to human health – responsible for 16% of all deaths worldwide. Of the numerous air pollutants, particulate matter (PM) was estimated (in 2016) to contribute to 4.2 million premature deaths worldwide per year, brought on by cardiovascular and respiratory diseases. One of the biggest problems related to air pollution is particulate matter (PM) which is a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets and comes from construction sites, road traffic, power plants, etc. PM varies in size, shape and chemical composition and is classified based on size – either less than 10 (PM10) or 2.5 (PM2.5) micrometres in diameter. In the UK, particulate matter is the fourth greatest threat to public health after cancer, heart disease and obesity.
Interestingly, there is evidence that air pollution also affects insect and plant populations. Certain air pollutants decrease flower scents, and therefore, impact an insect’s ability to locate and forage. And some plants release defensive metabolites in response to air pollutants which negatively affect insect herbivores. Historically, honeybees and bee products have been used to monitor environmental pollution due to their sensitivity to pollutants, ability to transfer contaminants into their honey and high mobility and monitoring area. However, the impact of particulate matter on bee health and immunity is largely unknown. The fruit fly, Drosophila melanogaster is also used to study the impact of air pollution on health and immunity. Particulate matter was found to shorten the lifespan of Drosophila as well as induce inflammation, oxidative stress, and metabolic abnormality. Therefore, air pollution is both an environmental/ecological risk, and a human health issue.
To assess the putative biological impacts of exposure to air pollution, we will use the wax moth (Galleria mellonella), as the innate immune responses, notably phagocyte-mediated pathogen clearance, are highly similar to their human and mouse counterparts. They are amenable to physiological manipulations in their life history and ecology and are ethically more acceptable than animal work. We and others have proved the validity of using G. mellonella as a model organism to study toxicology and microbial pathogenesis (e.g. human pathogenic yeast and bacteria). Now we want to use G. mellonella in ecological and environmental studies. The overall AIM of this studentship is to use G. mellonella to address both the environmental and ecological consequences of air pollution on insect biology by investigating: (OBJ 1) the changes in life cycle of G. mellonella under different air-quality conditions; (OBJ 2) the impact of air quality on the immune system of G. mellonella; (OBJ 3) the mechanism(s) of altered cellular function caused by particulate matter.
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Air monitoring station in Glasgow Kerbside and Glen Finglas Estate (Woodland Trust) – sites for maintaining and monitoring insect life cycle