Testing hair from Asian monkeys living close to people may provide early warnings of toxic threats to humans and wildlife, according to a study published online this week in the American Journal of Physical Anthropology.
In parts of South and Southeast Asia, macaques and people are synanthropic, which means they share the same ecological niche. They drink from identical water sources, breathe the same air, share food sources, and play on the same ground.
"Macaques are similar to humans anatomically, physiologically and behaviorally," said the senior author on the study, Dr. Lisa Jones-Engel, a senior research scientist at the National Primate Research Center at the University of Washington in Seattle.
"They are also similar in their response to toxic exposures," said lead author Dr. Gregory Engel, a physician at Swedish Cherry Hill Family Medicine in Seattle and a research scientist at the UW National Primate Research Center. When macaques live in environments polluted by motor vehicles, openly disposed garbage, and industrial waste, they can come into contact with toxic substances such as lead, just as their human neighbors might.
Lead toxicity, the authors noted, remains a significant public health problem around the world. Intense exposure to lead can damage the nervous, circulatory, and reproductive systems, as well as the kidneys and liver. Exposure during childhood, according to other studies, may cause more subtle effects, such as decreased intelligence.
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