Skeleton parts from the Smithsonian's physical anthropology collection. (Jennifer Renteria/Smithsonian)
How do environmental toxins affect your bones?
January 14, 2016
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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. You have 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. The details include the bones' 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. 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. 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. Watch a "Smithsonian Science How" live webcast on How Bones Reveal Environmental Health. It 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