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Grass Pollen and Allergen Exposure Expected to Rise

Update Date: Nov 05, 2014 02:18 PM EST

Within the upcoming century, people can expect to see a spike in their exposure to grass pollen and allergens. Researchers from the University of Massachusetts Amherst estimated that exposure over the next 100 years can increase by up to 202 percent, which can lead to increases in carbon dioxide (CO2) and ozone (O3). These changes could have a huge impact on human health.

"This is the first evidence that pollen production is significantly stimulated by elevated carbon dioxide in a grass species and has worldwide implications due to the ubiquitous presence of grasses in all biomes and high prevalence of grass pollen allergy. These results are similar to our other studies performed in other highly allergenic taxa such as ragweed but with more extreme outcomes and wider impacts," environmental health scientist, Christine Rogers of the UMass Amherst School of Public Health and Health Sciences (SPHHS), said.

For this study, headed by Rogers, the team examined the potential interactions between levels of pollen production, concentrations of a Timothy grass pollen protein, CO2 and O3. Timothy grass is a very common human allergen. The researchers used tank reactor chambers to expose grass plants to four different atmospheric levels.

Overall, plants that were exposed to CO2 at an elevated 800 ppm with O3 levels set at current or at 80 ppb had increased pollen production by 53 percent per flower. The researchers noted that an increase in CO2 levels was linked to a greater number of plants flowering, which could increase pollen production by up to 200 percent.

"The implications of increasing CO2 for human health are clear. Stimulation of grass pollen production by elevated CO2 will increase airborne concentrations and increase exposure and suffering in grass pollen-allergic individuals," the authors wrote according to the press release.

The study was published in PLOS ONE.

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