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[Slashdot] - Daycares In Finland Built a 'Forest Floor,' and It Changed Children's Immune Systems

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omfglearntoplay shares a report from ScienceAlert: Playing through the greenery and litter of a mini forest's undergrowth for just one month may be enough to change a child's immune system, according to a small new experiment. When daycare workers in Finland rolled out a lawn, planted forest undergrowth such as dwarf heather and blueberries, and allowed children to care for crops in planter boxes, the diversity of microbes in the guts and on the skin of young kids appeared healthier in a very short space of time. Compared to other city kids who play in standard urban daycares with yards of pavement, tile and gravel, 3-, 4-, and 5-year-olds at these greened-up daycare centers in Finland showed increased T-cells and other important immune markers in their blood within 28 days. "We also found that the intestinal microbiota of children who received greenery was similar to the intestinal microbiota of children visiting the forest every day," says environmental scientist Marja Roslund from the University of Helsinki. Prior research has shown early exposure to green space is somehow linked to a well-functioning immune system, but it's still not clear whether that relationship is causal or not. The experiment in Finland is the first to explicitly manipulate a child's urban environment and then test for changes in their micriobiome and, in turn, a child's immune system. While the findings don't hold all the answers, they do support a leading idea -- namely that a change in environmental microbes can relatively easily affect a well-established microbiome in children, giving their immune system a helping hand in the process. The study was published in the journal Science Advances.

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