Exposure to fresh air, plenty of sunlight, and hours of exercise each day are some of the obvious benefits of farm living, but a new study will look at how the dirtier side of farm life may be the real reason why kids who grow up in agricultural environments are far less likely to develop allergic diseases than their more citified counterparts.

Funded by a five-year, $5 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), researchers at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health and Marshfield Clinic will determine how early exposure to farm animals and farm-related microbes promotes healthy immune development and increased resistance to viral respiratory illnesses in infants.

“Our goal is to better understand how specific bacteria and fungi unique to farm environments promote the kind of immunologic development that limits the severity of childhood allergic diseases and asthma,” says Dr. James Gern, principal investigator for the University of Wisconsin Asthma and Allergic Diseases Clinical Research Center. “Over the years, there have been great advancements made in the treatment of asthma, but very little progress made in preventing the illness in the first place. We hope that our study will eventually lead to the development of new preventive strategies.”