Mitrochondria readings in primary children suggest that more green space during early life might promote health in later life

Hautekiet, P. ., Saenen, N. D., Aerts, R. ., Martens, D. S., Roels, H. A., Bijnens, E. M., & Nawrot, N. S. (2022). Higher buccal mtDNA content is associated with residential surrounding green in a panel study of primary school children. Environmental Research, 213.

Mitrochondria, found in the cells of humans and other living organisms, are essential for the function and homeostasis of the cell. Previous research shows that mitrochondria can respond to environmental conditions. The aim of this study was to investigate whether residential green space is associated with mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) content in children.

The study was conducted in three different primary schools in Belgium over a period of two years. Buccal cell swabs were sampled during three different examinations at each school. A total of 436 samples from a study population of 246 children (age 9 – 12) were collected and analyzed. Collecting a sample involved rubbing a buccal cell swab inside a child’s cheek for 1 minute. One hundred and five children provided a buccal swab at one time point, 92 at two time points, and 49 at three time points. A Green Map of Flanders was used to determine (1) the level of greenness surrounding each child’s home at different radii (300 m, 500 m, and 1000 m) and (2) the distance from the child’s home to green space.

A statistical analysis of the data showed that a greater amount of surrounding green space was associated with a higher mtDNAc. For children living in agricultural areas, the opposite was true. Results also showed a higher mtDNAc for children living closer to green space. Green space within a 500 m and 1000 m radius had the strongest effect on mtDNAc. Two possible explanations are offered concerning the different results for agricultural areas. “One possible hypothesis could be that children living in an environment with more agricultural areas are exposed to a lower percentage of surrounding green space and therefore might experience less positive effects of green space.” Another possible explanation relates to emissions of primary particulate matter, nitrogen oxides, and ammonia often present in agricultural areas. These emissions have been linked to adverse health outcomes.

This research calls attention to the importance of the early life environment for human health. The findings suggest that “more green space during early life might promote health in later life.”

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