Italian scientists have used lichen to suggest a strong link between air pollution and the incidence of lung cancer in men under the age of 55 years. Lichens are very sensitive to sulphur dioxide concentrations, and their biodiversity is low in areas where sulphur dioxide levels are high. Using this fact, the researchers made maps of lichen biodiversity - the frequency of occurrence of lichens - across the Veneto region in north-east Italy. They then compared this to maps of the reported incidence of lung cancer in various groups of people. They found a strong overlap between the lichen map and that showing incidence of lung cancer in young men. However, they conclude that measured levels of sulphur dioxide in the area are too low to be likely to produce carcinogenic effects. Reporting their findings in the journal Nature, they suggest that other pollutants transported with sulphur dioxide, which may have carcinogenic effects, could be responsible.
Nature . References: "Lichens, air pollution and lung cancer," Nature, Vol. 387, pp 463-464.
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