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 inherited from your parents play a role in your appearance -- genes for height, bone structure, hair, eyes, or dimples. But scientists who study bones are finding that environment matters, too.
 
Physical anthropologists analyze human bones to learn more about human variation, 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, such as their internal structure and 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 and their possible effects on development, growth and health.
 
Toxins may come from natural sources, such as minerals in the water or molecules in the air. They are increasingly coming from human sources -- from 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, in a "Smithsonian Science How" live webcast on How Bones Reveal Environmental Health (airs at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EST on the Q?rius website). Physical Anthropologist Dr. Sabrina Sholts from the National Museum of Natural History will appear live to 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 (27)
  • EH-Fuh
    1/19/2016 - 12:14 p.m.

    They can look back by using bones from many different musuems and do CT scans and other stuff like that.

  • kbeatty-cel
    1/20/2016 - 10:41 a.m.

    This definitely gives people information they need to know about their environment. Humans today need to know what they are living in and they need to know how to prevent it. I would definitely consider this to be newsworthy.

  • laurenc-bag
    1/21/2016 - 06:50 p.m.

    Scientists can "look back in time" by examining the surrounding environment of the bones they find and using the law of superposition if the bones are located in layers of sediment. Also, this method varies, but scientists can also use carbon dating, a machine used to calculate how old an artifact is.

  • katieb1-lam
    2/03/2016 - 01:36 p.m.

    This is a very interesting topic that a lot of people should keep in mind, especially when they make dietary decisions. If more people knew about how their environment effected them then maybe they might try harder when it comes to reducing pollution and "cleaning up" the planet.

  • travond-fel
    2/19/2016 - 02:12 p.m.

    they can look back by using bones and fosils

  • garretta-fel
    2/19/2016 - 02:13 p.m.

    Scientists can look back in time by looking at models of human skeletons that have been preserved over time.

  • coled-fel
    2/19/2016 - 02:13 p.m.

    CTQ: Scientists can go back in time by scanning and looking at the bones of past lives, and can compare them to today's people.

  • elizabetht-fel
    2/19/2016 - 02:14 p.m.

    Scientists can look back at time by looking at their bones through CT scans and DNA analysis to see how old they were, what affected their bones, and what they were exposed to.

  • jacih-fel
    2/19/2016 - 02:14 p.m.

    The scientists can look back into time by looking into the bones that remain from years ago.They could also preform CT scans and learn more about the history about the bones and the person or animal they came from and by doing that they can learn about the time it came from.

  • mattv-fel
    2/19/2016 - 02:14 p.m.

    Scientists can "look back in time" by taking CT scans of the bones and seeing inside the bones and viewing the history of the bones.

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