The National Geographic Society has awarded the NYU College of Dentistry a one-year grant to support a study on tooth and bone development in African mountain gorillas that could provide insights into how to protect the 700 remaining members of this endangered species.
NYUCD’s principal investigator, Dr. Timothy Bromage, an Adjunct Professor of Basic Science & Craniofacial Biology and of Biomaterials & Biomimetics, and the research team will analyze the remains of 72 Rwandan gorillas for clues about how environmental changes have affected the animals’ development.
“We know that teeth and bones grow incrementally, a bit every day,” Dr. Bromage explained, “and that environmental stressors can alter that growth. Rainy seasons in east-central Africa may be lasting longer than usual because of global climate change. Using high resolution microscopy, our team will analyze teeth and bone tissue patterns for signs of the onset of diseases, such as the flu, to see if a possible link can be made between these kinds of environmental fluctuations and gorilla disease rates.
“If a link is established between rainy weather and an increased susceptibility to the flu, wildlife officials in Rwanda will have reason to be even more concerned about the animals.”
Principal investigators Dr. Shannon McFarlin, a postdoctoral research fellow at George Washington University, and Dr. Antoine Mudakikwa, Chief Veterinarian of the Rwandan Office of Tourism and National Parks, work together with Dr. Bromage on the study. The Leakey Foundation has also provided significant funding for the project and the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International and Mountain Gorilla Veterinary Project are contributing vital resources to advance the success of the work.