More on Comparative Medicine

August 7, 2008 at 6:14 pm Leave a comment

More news in comparative medicine.  This time the story involves humans helping other primates.  EurekAlert reports that:

A medical test developed to detect an overload of iron in humans has recently been adapted to screen for the condition in some distant relatives: diminutive monkeys from South America, according to veterinarians at the Wildlife Conservation Society.

The test—which is now used to screen for elevated iron levels in marmosets and tamarins (callitrichidae) —is a recent example of how advances in human health can be applied to animals in zoological parks and in the wild. The study, titled “Hematologic Iron Analyte Values as an Indicator of Hepatic Hemosiderosis in Callitrichidae,” appears in the most recent edition of the The American Journal of Primatology.

“With this test, we can easily and safely monitor the iron levels in marmosets and tamarins for early identification of individuals that may be predisposed to develop hemosiderosis, an overload of iron in the body, despite the low iron diet that has been fine-tuned to the unique requirements of these species,” said Dr. Kristine Smith of the Wildlife Conservation Society’s health programs and lead author on the paper.

Tamarin and marmoset monkeys are able to absorb iron very efficiently from their food and are susceptible to developing high levels of iron in their system. This diagnostic test, also used in humans, is now being implemented as part of the periodic physical exam given to the tamarins and marmosets in WCS’s Bronx Zoo. This condition is also common in humans, with up to 10 percent of people of European origin possessing the gene which could lead to hemosiderosis. If necessary, veterinarians and curatorial staff can treat abnormalities in iron levels with minor dietary adjustments tailored to the individual animal’s needs.

 A story in this week’s BBC News states that:

A global review of the world’s primates says 48% of species face extinction, an outlook described as “depressing” by conservationists.


“It is quite spectacular; we are just wiping out primates,” said Jean-Christophe Vie, deputy head of the IUCN Species Programme.

He added that the data was probably the worst assessment for any group of species on record.

“The problem with these species is that they have long lives, so it takes time to reverse the decline. It is quite depressing.”

Considering that habitat destruction and hunting by humans are believed to be the two main causes of the decline, finding ways to adapt human medical tests and treatments to our primate cousins is just one way we should help.  Reducing or reversing habitat destruction and ending needless hunting must also be implemented – and the sooner the better.

Using human health tests and treatments on wild animal species may help prevent significant population losses, but in the long run we should exercise caution in interfering with natural selective and reproductive processes.  If we interfere too much we could break down the protective barriers against genetic disorders created by millions of years of natural selection, and the world could end up with primate populations threatened by inherited disease.

Let’s take a lesson from the problems we see with inherited disease in domestic dog populations.  In the long run, natural selection trumps artificial selection.


Entry filed under: animal rights, dogs, science, wildlife. Tags: .

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