How do environmental toxins affect your bones? Skeleton parts from the Smithsonian's physical anthropology collection. (Jennifer Renteria/Smithsonian)
How do environmental toxins affect your bones?
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Did you know that you look the way you do because of the environment you grew up in? Of course, the genes you got from your parents play a role in your appearance. You have genes for height and bone structure. You have genes for hair, eyes or dimples. But scientists who study bones are finding that environment matters, too.
 
Physical anthropologists analyze human bones. The scientists want to learn more about human variation.  For instance, they want to know more about what makes us the same or different. Collections of bones in museums can provide important material for study. Modern techniques such as CT scanning and mass spectrometry reveal details of bones. The details include the bones' internal structure. And, scientists learn about bones' chemical composition.
 
It turns out that environment, which can be everything from what you eat to what you breathe, affects the skeleton as it develops. Our skulls and bodies may get smaller, our teeth more brittle or our bones less durable if we are exposed to certain toxins. Looking back in time, anthropologists are diagnosing the range of toxins people have been exposed to. The scientists are studying the toxins' possible effects on development, growth and health.
 
Toxins may come from natural sources. Those include minerals in the water. Or molecules in the air. The toxins are increasingly coming from human sources. Those include the manufacture and use of products we bring into our lives.
 
What are scientists finding out about environmental impacts on bones? Find out more on Thursday, February 11, 2016.  Watch a "Smithsonian Science How" live webcast. It's on How Bones Reveal Environmental Health. It airs at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EST. You can watch it on the Q?rius website. Physical Anthropologist Dr. Sabrina Sholts from the National Museum of Natural History will appear live. She will discuss and answer questions. Get teaching resources to support your webcast experience.

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CRITICAL THINKING QUESTION
How can scientists look back in time?
Write your answers in the comments section below


COMMENTS (6)
  • ekelly-swe
    1/20/2016 - 08:09 p.m.

    looking at your teeth and bones they were able to tell what kind of environment you lived in.

  • ellaf-
    1/25/2016 - 09:24 a.m.

    They could tell how old the were and what environment they lived in by looking at the bones.

  • mo-bla
    2/25/2016 - 01:24 p.m.

    wow! this is really good to learn and fun

  • quiemi-fel
    3/14/2016 - 02:56 p.m.

    They can find evidence and they observe it really well they will be able to look in time with old resources such as bones.

  • mescoy-fel
    3/14/2016 - 03:01 p.m.

    It is weird that you can have the same things as other people you know.

  • alex0509-yyca
    7/26/2016 - 02:55 p.m.

    Scientists can look back in time by looking at human bones from back in time. The scientists can also look back in time by looking at the bones. They can see that looking at your teeth and bones were able to tell you what kind of environment you lived in.

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