Flying fox feeding on cycad seeds (courtesy of Dr. Merlin Tuttle, Bat Conservation International)
Maybe you really are what you eat. This would solve the long-time mystery of why so many of Guam’s Chamorro people – up to a third per village -- suffered a devastating neurological disease. A new study suggests that they gorged on flying fox bats that in turn had feasted on neurotoxin-laden cycad seeds.
"Through the consumption of cycad-fed flying foxes, the Chamorro people may have unwittingly ingested large quantities of cycad neurotoxins," say Clark Monson of the University of Hawaii, Honolulu, Sandra Banack of California State University, Fullerton, and Paul Cox of the National Tropical Botanical Garden in Kalaheo, Hawaii, in the June issue of Conservation Biology.
Guam’s indigenous Chamorro people historically had a high incidence of a neurological disease with similarities to Lou Gehrig’s, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases. Called ALS-PDC (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis-Parkinsonian dementia complex), the disease’s symptoms range from muscle weakness and paralysis to dementia. The rate of ALS-PDC has been as much as 100 times higher in Guam’s Chamorro people than in the continental U.S.
Clark Monson | Society for Conservation Biology
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