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4/27/2017 Newsela | Old-fashioned Amish ways helping scientists make new asthma discoveries

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SCIENCE (/articles/#/category/science) (/articles/amish-farming-asthma/id/20438/quiz/) 1188 SHARE

Studying old Amish ways yields new knowledge about

By Los Angeles Times, adapted by Newsela sta

Amish children play on the teeter-totters before the start of class in Bergholz, Ohio, April 9, 2013. AP Photo/Scott R. Galvin


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4/27/2017 Newsela | Old-fashioned Amish ways helping scientists make new asthma discoveries


What can we learn about a health condition by studying a group of people?

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The Amish are a group of Christians who live a very traditional lifestyle. They do not use electricity or other modern
technology. Now, scientists are studying their old-fashioned ways to learn more about asthma. This is a condition
that makes it hard to breathe sometimes.

Scientists studied the blood and genes of 30 Amish children from Indiana.Genes are made ofDNA. DNA contains
the information that tells the body how to grow and work. Some genes are involved in immunity, which protects
people from getting sick. The scientists' results helped them understand how immunity helps prevent asthma.

Scientists have known for a long time that being around farm animals protects children from asthma. But exactly
how and why this happens remained a mystery.


Amish children seemed to hold important clues. For some reason, they are less likely to develop asthma than other
youngsters. In the United States, more than 1 in 10 children have been diagnosed with asthma. But the rate of
asthma among Amish children is only 1 in 20.

To understand this difference, scientists studied 30 Amish children between the ages of 7 and 14. The youths gave
blood samples so the scientists could study their immune system cells. These cells help fight infection and disease.

The scientists also collected dust from some of the children's houses.


After finishing up in Indiana, the scientists went to South Dakota to study the Hutterites.

Like the Amish, the Hutterites live in farming communities. They do not use modern technology like computers and
televisions.But there is one big difference between the two groups. A typical Amish family runs its own small dairy
farm and relies on horses for plowing and transportation. Hutterites run large community farms using modern
machines instead of animals.

The scientists hoped this would teach them more about how farm animals affect asthma.

For each of the 30 Amish children in the study, the scientists found a Hutterite child of the same age. The Hutterite
children gave blood samples. Scientists also went to 10 Hutterite homes to collect samples of dust.

The scientists found that six of the Hutterite children had asthma, or 1 in 5. On the other hand,none of the Amish
children had asthma.

The scientists also found that the Amish children had more neutrophils than the Hutterites. Neutrophils are
830Lsystem cells. They areWRITE
important immune some (/ARTICLES/AMISH-FARMING-
of the first cells to fight back when an infection begins.

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4/27/2017 Newsela | Old-fashioned Amish ways helping scientists make new asthma discoveries
The scientists decided to take a closer look at these cells. They found that immunity genes were more active in the
Amish kids than in the Hutterites.

In another part of the study, scientists looked at the dust they collected from homes. Farm microbes were much
higher in Amish dust than in Hutterite dust. This is because the Amish spend more time near farm animals.

The scientists then put some of this dust on the noses of mice. Afterward, the mice were exposed to allergens to see
if they would have trouble breathing. The farm microbes in the Amish dust protected the animals from the
allergens. However, the Hutterite dust did not protect the mice.

The scientists repeated the experiment with a different group of mice. These mice did not have important immunity
genes. Without those genes, the Amish dust did not protect the mice as well.This was strong evidence that the
immune system uses the farm microbes to fight asthma.


Overall, the experiments help explain why farm life is connected with a lower risk of asthma. Other questions
remain,several scientists say. One of these scientists is Carol Ober, who worked on the study. She thinks more work
is needed to turn these findings into treatments for asthma.

"You can't put a cow in every family's house," Ober said. But scientists might help protect children from asthma by
finding other ways to recreate the "Amish experience."

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