Of moose and men

Submitted by Sammy Smith (sammy@thesga.org)

Moose? What’s this about moose?

Michigan Technological University wildlife ecologists Rolf O. Peterson and John A. Vucetich have co-authored a paper with archaeologist Clark Spencer Larsen and two others about osteoarthritis in moose. Their specimens came from Isle Royale, an island that’s a National Park in western Lake Superior and is closer to Canada than the United States.

The moose most likely to develop arthritis, they conclude, also had evidence of poor nutrition when they were young. Bioarchaeologist Larsen, on the faculty at Ohio State University in Columbus, has long studied human skeletons, and considers the moose data illuminating, and that the same might well be true for humans. Thus, poor nutrition in early life may mean a heightened likelihood of osteoarthritis in later life. Of course, other things can also increase the probability of getting osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is also called degenerative arthritis, and involves the loss of cartiledge in joints, making movement painful.

In an August 16th 2010 New York Times story, Pam Belluck reports that the moose study was begun in 1958 and has been continued by generations of researchers. She writes:

For people, several historical cases may suggest a nutritional link. Bones of 16th-century American Indians in Florida and Georgia showed significant increases in osteoarthritis after Spanish missionaries arrived and tribes adopted farming, increasing their workload but also shifting their diet from fish and wild plants to corn, which “lacks a couple of essential amino acids and is iron deficient,” said Clark Larsen…. Many children and young adults were smaller and died earlier, Dr. Larsen said, and similar patterns occurred when an earlier American Indian population in the Midwest began farming maize.

The Peterson et al. paper is titled “Ecology of Arthritis,” and is published in Ecology Letters (still early view in August 2010). The article is not free, but there’s a link to a copy on the Michigan tech webpage with the press release.

Where to find it