Pollen is a fine to coarse powder containing the microgametophytes of seed plants, which produce the male gametes (sperm cells). Pollen grains have a hard coat made of sporopollenin that protects the gametophytes during the process of their movement from the stamens to the pistil of flowering plants or from the male cone to the female cone of coniferous plants. If pollen lands on a compatible pistil or female cone, it germinates, producing a pollen tube that transfers the sperm to the ovule containing the female gametophyte. Individual pollen grains are small enough to require magnification to see detail. The study of pollen is called palynology and is highly useful in paleoecology, paleontology, archeology, and forensics.

Pollen in plants is used for transferring haploid male genetic material from the anther of a single flower to the stigma of another in cross-pollination. In a case of self-pollination, this process takes place from the anther of a flower to the stigma of the same flower.

Allergy to pollen220px-Misc_pollen

Nasal allergy to pollen is called pollinosis, and allergy specifically to grass pollen is called hay fever. Generally pollens that cause allergies are those of anemophilous plants (pollen is dispersed by air currents.) Such plants produce large quantities of lightweight pollen (because wind dispersal is random and the likelihood of one pollen grain landing on another flower is small), which can be carried for great distances and are easily inhaled, bringing it into contact with the sensitive nasal passages.




In the US, people often mistakenly blame the conspicuous goldenrod flower for allergies. Since this plant is entomophilous (its pollen is dispersed by animals), its heavy, sticky pollen does not become independently airborne. Most late summer and fall pollen allergies are probably caused by ragweed, a widespread anemophilous plant.

Arizona was once regarded as a haven for people with pollen allergies, although several ragweed species grow in the desert. However, as suburbs grew and people began establishing irrigated lawns and gardens, more irritating species of ragweed gained a foothold and Arizona lost its claim of freedom from hay fever.

Anemophilous spring blooming plants such as oak, birch, hickory, pecan, and early summer grasses may also induce pollen allergies. Most cultivated plants with showy flowers are entomophilous and do not cause pollen allergies.

The percentage of people in the United States affected by hay fever varies between 10% and 20%, and such allergy has proven to be the most frequent allergic response in the nation. There are certain evidential suggestions pointing out hay fever and similar allergies to be of hereditary origin. Individuals who suffer from eczema or are asthmatic tend to be more susceptible to developing long-term hay fever.

The most efficient way to handle a pollen allergy is by preventing contact with the material. Individuals carrying the ailment may at first believe that they have a simple summer cold, but hay fever becomes more evident when the apparent cold does not disappear. The confirmation of hay fever can be obtained after examination by a general physician.

Treatment

Antihistamines are effective at treating mild cases of hay fever, this type of non-prescribed drugs includes loratadine, cetirizine and chlorphenamine. They do not prevent the discharge of histamine, but it has been proven that they do prevent a part of the chain reaction activated by this biogenic amine, which considerably lowers hay fever symptoms. A side effect of antihistamines is somnolence, and it is therefore recommended not to take these drugs while driving an automobile or during the consumption of alcoholic beverages. However, the side effects of these medications can vary from person to person.

Decongestants can be administered in different ways such as tablets and nasal sprays. Decongestants such as pseudoephedrine, xylometazoline and Drixoral can be acquired as over-the-counter medications. Since oral decongestant drugs raise blood pressure levels, individuals with hypertension are advised to avoid them. The oral decongestant type can aggravate the symptoms of an enlarged prostate, making the process of urinating more complicated.

Allergy immunotherapy (AIT) treatment involves administering doses of allergens to accustom the body to substances that are generally harmless (pollen, house dust mites), thereby inducing specific long-term tolerance. Allergy immunotherapy can be administered orally (as sublingual tablets or sublingual drops), or by injections under the skin (subcutaneous). Discovered by Leonard Noon and John Freeman in 1911, allergy immunotherapy represents the only causative treatment for respiratory allergies.

Nutrition

Most major classes of predatory and parasitic arthropods contain species that eat pollen, despite the common perception that bees are the primary pollen-consuming arthropod group. Many other Hymenoptera other than bees consume pollen as adults, though only a small number feed on pollen as larvae (including some ant larvae). Spiders are normally considered carnivores but pollen is an important source of food for several species, particularly for spiderlings, which catch pollen on their webs. It is not clear how spiderlings manage to eat pollen however, since their mouths are not large enough to consume pollen grains. Some predatory mites also feed on pollen, with some species being able to subsist solely on pollen, such as Euseius tularensis, which feeds on the pollen of dozens of plant species. Members of some beetle families such as Mordellidae andMelyridae feed almost exclusively on pollen as adults, while various lineages within larger families such as Curculionidae, Chrysomelidae, Cerambycidae, and Scarabaeidae are pollen specialists even though most members of their families are not (e.g., only 36 of 40000 species of ground beetles, which are typically predatory, have been shown to eat pollen—but this is thought to be a severe underestimate as the feeding habits are only known for 1000 species). Similarly, Ladybird beetles mainly eat insects, but many species also eat pollen, as either part or all of their diet. Hemiptera are mostly herbivores or omnivores but pollen feeding is known (and has only been well studied in the Anthocoridae). Many adult flies, especially Syrphidae, feed on pollen, and three UK syrphid species feed strictly on pollen (syrphids, like all flies, cannot eat pollen directly due to the structure of their mouthparts, but can consume pollen contents that are dissolved in a fluid). Some species of fungus, including Fomes fomentarius, are able to break down grains of pollen as a secondary nutrition source that is particularly high in nitrogen.

Some species of Heliconius butterflies consume pollen as adults, which appears to be a valuable nutrient source, and these species are more distasteful to predators than the non-pollen consuming species.

Although bats, butterflies and hummingbirds are not pollen eaters per se, their consumption of nectar in flowers is an important aspect of the pollination process.

In humans

A variety of producers have started selling bee pollen for human consumption, often marketed as a food (rather than a dietary supplement). The largest constituent iscarbohydrates, with protein content ranging from 7 to 35 percent depending on the plant species collected by bees.

Honey produced by bees from natural sources contains pollen derived p-coumaric acid, an antioxidant.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not found any harmful effects of bee pollen consumption, except from the usual allergies. However, FDA does not allow bee pollen marketers in the United States to make health claims about their produce, as no scientific basis for these has ever been proven. Furthermore, there are possible dangers not only from allergic reactions but also from contaminants such as pesticides and from fungi and bacteria growth related to poor storage procedures. A manufacturers’s claim that pollen collecting helps the bee colonies is also controversial.

 

Forensic palynology

 

An SEM micrograph of Redbudpollen. Scanning electron microscopes are major instruments in palynology.

In forensic biology, pollen can tell a lot about where a person or object has been, because regions of the world, or even more particular locations such a certain set of bushes, will have a distinctive collection of pollen species. Pollen evidence can also reveal the season in which a particular object picked up the pollen.Pollen has been used to trace activity at mass graves in Bosnia, catch a burglar who brushed against a Hypericum bush during a crime, and has even been proposed as an additive for bullets to enable tracking them

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