In the UK and across Europe, grass pollen is the single most important outdoor aeroallergen; 27% of the population are sensitised to grass pollen. Grass pollen allergy has been linked to increased risk of allergic asthma exacerbations, which can lead to hospitalisation and fatalities. Sensitivity towards grass pollen varies between species, of which there are over 150 in the UK.
However, due to few unique morphological features, grass pollen from different species cannot be discriminated using traditional methods. Currently, there is no way of detecting, modelling or forecasting the aerial-dispersion of pollen from the biodiversity of UK grasses. Consequently, grasses are coalesced into a single group in the UK pollen forecast.
PollerGEN is an interdisciplinary NERC project with the aim of revolutionising the way that pollen dispersion is measured and forecast, with synergies for understanding the ecology of aerial dispersed pollen. In collaboration with the UK Met Office, a key goal is to improve forecasts of individual grass pollen species. Using environmental genomics, we will identify species of grass pollen which are present during the summer months across 16 specific collection sites in the UK, and measure the abundance of allergenic species of grass. The information will be used to model spatial and temporal deposition of different species of grass pollen and identify linkages to human health. The project aims to provide a paradigm shift in our ecological understanding of windborne pollen in time and space and inform the public of the timing and environmental factors that put them at risk of exposure to pollen; a key strategy in the prevention of allergy and asthma attacks.