From roaming the wide open fields, to horseback riding and eating fresh eggs for breakfast, what could be better than living on a farm? Years ago scientists discovered that even drinking raw cow's milk can provide protection against allergies. However, scientists from the Vlaams Instituut voor Biotechnologie (VIB) and Ghent University recently discovered a missing link that further supports the belief that children growing up on farms are far better protected against asthma and allergies.

"At this point, we have revealed an actual link between farm dust and protection against asthma and allergies. We did this by exposing mice to farm dust extract from Germany and Switzerland. These tests revealed that the mice were fully protected against house dust mite allergy, the most common cause for allergies in humans," Bart Lambrecht, professor from VIB and Ghent University, said in a news release

The researchers discovered that compared to house dust mite, farm dust actually makes the mucous membrane inside the respiratory tracts react less severely.

"This effect is created by the A20 protein, which the body produces upon contact with farm dust. When we inactivate the A20 protein in the mucous membrane of the lungs, farm dust is no longer able to reduce an allergic or asthmatic reaction," Hamida Hammad, professor from VIB and Ghent University, explained in the release. 

When this was tested on patients, the researchers found that people suffering from allergies and asthma are deficient in A20, which explains why they react to allergens so severely.

"We also assessed a test group of 2,000 children growing up on farms, and found that most of them are protected. Those who are not protected and still develop allergies have a genetic variant of the A20 gene which causes the A20 protein to malfunction," said Lambrecht in the release. 

The researchers plan to further their studies by identifying the active substance in farm dust that is responsible for providing protection. This discovery could then lead to preventive asthma medicine.

"We already suspect that to some extent, the answer lies in the endotoxines, which form part of the cell wall of specific bacteria. There are very likely other contributing substances as well. Discovering how farm dust provides this type of protection has certainly put us on the right track towards developing an asthma vaccine and new allergy therapies. However, several years of research are required still before they will be available to patients," Hammad said in the release.

The results of their study were recently published in the journal Science.

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