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04 June 2019 | Story Valentino Ndaba | Photo Charl Devenish
Prof Cathryn Tonne
Air pollution not only costs lives, it costs money too. Pictured is Prof Cathryn Tonne presenting a guest lecture on air pollution at the Bloemfontein Campus.

Health effects associated with ambient air pollution (AAP) have been well documented. Subsequently, the relationship between pollution and financial outcomes have also become a focus for case studies globally. An Environmental Research journal article revealed that “low and middle-income countries are disproportionately affected by the global burden of adverse health effects caused by AAP”. 

A high price to pay

In 2012, high concentrations of air pollution caused 7.4% of all deaths, costing South Africa up to 6% of its Gross Domestic Product. According to the recent International Growth Centre study conducted by senior University of Cape Town researchers, this is a direct consequence of the country’s heavy dependence of fossil fuels, a source of health-damaging air pollution and greenhouse pollutants.

Stunted human and economic growth

These South African statistics are attested to by Prof Cathryn Tonne who recently presented a guest lecture on air pollution which was hosted by the University of the Free State (UFS) Business School.

“Air pollution can affect economic development through several pathways, and health is an important one. Air pollution is linked to shorter life expectancy, chronic disease, asthma exacerbation and many other health outcomes that result in absenteeism from work and school. These have large direct costs to the health system.” 

Prof Tonne says that air pollution exposure in children is linked to reduced cognitive development, with important impacts on human capital. As a result, children are not reaching their full potential in terms of neurodevelopment, which has an effect on their income prospects and the economy as a whole. 

Resolving a looming disaster

Technology may be employed to radically clean the air. Cities need to lead in the reduction of air pollution by promoting renewable energy, using active transport such as walking or cycling, and investing in infrastructure to make this safe and attractive. 

With researchers playing a major role in strengthening the case for aggressive air pollution control, the government needs to implement policies in order to control sources of air pollution. This global health and economic issue also requires individuals and communities to play their part to improve air quality.

News Archive

Dr Charlotte Boucher and Lindi Heyns examine possible anti-microbial activity in the skin of Western olive toad species
2014-12-22

 

Researchers Lindi Heyns and Dr Charlotte Boucher are working together on an interdisciplinary project between the Departments of Zoology and Entomology and Veterinary Biotechnology at the University of the Free State (UFS). The focus of their research is on the preliminary biochemical description of skin secretions in some South African toads.

The project forms part of an Honours study executed by Dwayne Pike under Heyns’ supervision. He is co-supervised by Dr Boucher who is assisting with the biochemical and microbiological assays.

Dr Boucher said, “Amphibians are characterised by the presence of cutaneous glands spread over the skin. There are two types of glands, namely mucous and granular (poison), located on the inner surface of the epidermis. Mucous glands are widely dispersed over the skin, while granular glands can be grouped and enlarged in specific regions. Mucous glands are generally associated with maintenance of humidity and cutaneous respiration, whereas granular glands function in chemical defence against predators and/or microbial infection. Studies indicate that the compounds produced by the granular glands belong to numerous chemical classes with diverse pharmacological activities.”

The products secreted by granular glands are rich in low molecular weight constituents of varied molecular types, including proteins, peptides and toxins. These secretions make the toad foul-tasting to predators and even toxic to other frog species. In addition, amphibians offer an attractive source of novel antimicrobials. Studies indicate that as a response to inhabiting microorganism-rich environments they synthesise and secrete a diverse array of antimicrobial peptides (AMPs) as an innate form of defence. Extensive research by various other research groups has been carried out on antimicrobial peptides of the genus Rana; however, hardly any studies have investigated the antimicrobial activity of African frog species.

The focus of this preliminary project is to determine the protein composition of the glandular secretions of the Western olive toad (Amietophrynus poweri), using biochemical tests, such as SDS-PAGE also known as protein gel electrophoresis combined with mass-spectrometry used to identify unknown peptides and proteins. This will give us an overview of the composition of the glandular secretions. Furthermore, we are also looking at microbiological tests, which include assays that test for possible anti-microbial activity against various bacterial and fungal species.

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