The international research group draws its conclusions from its studies on the bones of mountain gorillas. Researchers found similar characteristics of bone ageing in the bones of gorillas as in humans. However, the gorilla bones showed no signs of age-related accelerating bone loss.
People, and women in particular, tend to lose bone mineral density with age. Yet, there was no significant difference in bone density between the older mountain gorilla females and males.
The researchers believe this difference between humans and gorillas to be explained by the fact that the gorilla females reproduce throughout their lives and are therefore likely to maintain hormone levels that help protect them from bone loss. In addition, physical activity may be beneficial in growing and maintaining stronger bones.
Research of the bones of gorillas and other apes helps to determine the origin of several diseases common in humans. For example, one in four Finnish women over 50 suffer from osteoporosis.
‘The effects of ageing on the skeletal system have hardly been studied with this precision among wild primates. As the mountain gorilla population is continuously monitored, the lifestyle of the gorillas that are the subject of the study is well known, as are their exact age and, for example, their reproductive history,’ says Docent Juho-Antti Junno, a bioarchaeologist involved in the study, from the University of Oulu. Junno has studied gorillas starting in 2002.
Bone stalks were examined by imaging them using a PQCT device. The cross-section of the femur demonstrates the mineral density of the peeling to be quite high in the old gorilla females: the white color indicates the normal shell density of about 1200mg/ccm3.
Researchers assume that osteoporosis and many other age-related diseases originated when human beings and African monkeys began to develop in different directions as evolution was divided.
In an international study led by Johns Hopkins University, the bones of 34 wild mountain gorillas were analysed, for example, by measuring bone density in the bones of the limbs and spine. Of the gorillas studied, 16 were females, and 17 were males, all aged 11-43.
The research group collected the bone material from Rwanda in Volcanoes National Park. The park is one of the few places in the world where wild gorillas can be observed throughout their lives. When a gorilla dies in nature, its bones are collected, catalogued, and added to the collection at the local Karisoke Research Centre.
Main photo: Hordes of mountain gorilla are monitored in the jungle from morning to dusk. Among other things, the behaviour and sampling of gorillas are studied and documented. Gorillas are not exactly a threat to researchers, but in between males may make fake attacks, less often also real attacks. Juho-Antti Junno has been working with gorilla scientists at Johns Hopkins University since 2010.
Last updated: 7.10.2020