Good and Bad Farming: The Right Microbiome Protects from Allergy

  • Markus Johannes EgeEmail author
Part of the Birkhäuser Advances in Infectious Diseases book series (BAID)


The hygiene hypothesis has provided a useful framework for the assessment of the asthma and atopy epidemic in relation to changes in lifestyle. As a model for a traditional environment rich in microbial exposure, the farm effect has advanced the development of the hygiene hypothesis. Exposure to farming, however, is ambiguous: a strong exposure such as in occupational settings can also increase the risk of allergies and respiratory disease, whereas in childhood most though not all farm-related exposures are protective for asthma and allergies.

First analyses relying on generic markers of microbial exposures supported the notion that microorganisms were involved in the beneficial effects of farm exposure; and direct evidence was provided by molecular techniques targeting microbial DNA.

Exposure to endotoxin and Gram-negative bacteria was shown to protect from atopy most likely through innate immune signalling. Risk of asthma, but not atopy was reduced by a high microbial diversity in the environment. A high diversity might enhance the probability of encountering asthma-protective groups of microorganisms. Candidates were found in the mould genera Eurotium and Penicillium and among bacteria. Microbial diversity in the environment was also reflected in the mucosal microbiome of the nasal cavity, suggesting a direct influence on the upper airways and perhaps indirectly on the epithelium of the lower airways as postulated by the united airways hypothesis.

At the mucosal surface the microorganisms interact with the host immune system; a broad microbial diversity may prevent outgrowth of pathogens. Restoration of a balanced microbiome may thus enhance prevention from allergy.


Epidemiology Farming studies Microbial exposure Diversity 


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© Springer International Publishing AG 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.LMU Munich, Dr. von Hauner Children’s HospitalMunichGermany

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