Toxicants in Asian macaque hair may warn of environmental threats


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 in January 2010 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, Lisa Jones-Engel, a senior research scientist in WaNPRC International Programs.

“They are also similar in their response to toxic exposures,” said lead author Gregory Engel, a physician at Swedish Cherry Hill Family Medicine in Seattle and WaNPRC affiliate scientist. 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.

Read the UW news release for the rest of the story. Listen to a podcast on the research on the Scientific American Web site.