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. 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


COMMENTS (48)
  • isabellas-1-nar
    1/15/2016 - 10:54 a.m.

    They can look at past recordings of the thing they are looking for.They could also look at the library or look at past deaths and see if any could help them with the toxin incident.It is good that scientists are doing this so if this happens to anyone they could try and make a cure for it.

  • nicolettem-2-bar
    1/15/2016 - 04:05 p.m.

    Scientist can look back in time by looking at people's ancestors and the genes you have, that are passed down through your parents and your parents parents. The way you look is not just affected by your genes it is also affected by urge environment you live in and the food you eat.

  • sheridanm-6-bar
    1/15/2016 - 05:25 p.m.

    Scientists can look back in time by analyzing bones and artifacts. "Physical anthropologists analyze human bones to learn more about human variation." Bones are very useful when studying important material. A new form of analyzing bones is called CT scanning, which reveals the bones structure.

  • sydneym-3-bar
    1/15/2016 - 06:47 p.m.

    Scientist can look back in time by looking at fossils of organisms from the past or by looking at old human bones with advanced scanners, just like the ones they described in the article. You can look back in time also by looking at pictures of someone's ancestors and seeing what they looked like. The environment has many affects on our bodies and I find that very interesting

  • angelad-6-bar
    1/16/2016 - 11:12 a.m.

    Scientist can look back in time by looking at your genes you have inherited to determine what your ancestors may have looked like but they also can use ancient bones by "Modern techniques such as CT scanning and mass spectrometry reveal details of bones. The details include the bones' internal structure and chemical composition." . I found this article surprising I already knew that what you eat can affect your development but not were you live. I found this article interesting because reading about your bone development being affected by your environment makes you wonder if were you are living is affecting you in a negative way.

  • Eric0221-YYCA
    1/18/2016 - 01:43 p.m.

    The environmental toxins might be have been something that people might not wanted to get because people might have been worrying about their growth because people might have wanted to be tall after they stopped growing. The toxins might have been affecting a lot of people that are passionate about their growth because people might have wanted to become tall and not become affected with the environment toxins. People might have not wanted to become affected by the environment toxins because they don't want to become affect from their growth and health from the environment toxins. The people might not wanted to get affected by the environment toxins because they don't want it to affect their growth and health from the environment toxins.
    Critical Thinking Question: How can scientists look back in time?
    Answer: By using the DNA samples that is still left from the dead body of an animal.

  • tashanti-
    1/19/2016 - 08:33 a.m.

    Scientists can look back in time by analyzing bones and artifacts. "Physical anthropologists analyze human bones to learn more about human variation." Bones are very useful when studying important material. A new form of analyzing bones is called CT scanning, which reveals the bones structure.

  • mykaelw-
    1/19/2016 - 08:35 a.m.

    By looking back at the facts and bones in the world to find more things to help the scientist

  • avantm-wes
    1/19/2016 - 09:13 a.m.

    Scientists can look back in time because of anthropologists are diagnosing the range of toxins people have been exposed to scientist are studying the toxins possible effect on development on growth and health.

  • rashiyad-wes
    1/19/2016 - 09:27 a.m.

    Scientist can look backin time.And did you know that you can look the way you do because of the evironment you grew up in.

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