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Journal of Biomedicine and Biotechnology
Volume 2012, Article ID 472858, 10 pages
Research Article

Five Hundred Years of Mercury Exposure and Adaptation

1Laboratorio de Paleopatología, Cátedra Pedro Weiss, Universidad Peruana Cayetano Heredia, Lima, Peru
2CARS, The University of Chicago, Bulding 434A, 9700 South Cass Avenue, Argonne, IL 60439, USA
3Departments of Mathematics and Statistics, The University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA
4Department of Medicine, Jackson Memorial Hospital, University of Miami, Miami, FL 33124, USA
5Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Analytical Chemistry Laboratory, University of New Mexico, Albuquerque, NM 87131, USA
6Department of Neurology, New Mexico Health Enhancement and Marathon Clinics Research Foundation, Albuquerque, NM 87122, USA

Received 11 March 2012; Revised 13 May 2012; Accepted 15 May 2012

Academic Editor: João B. T. Rocha

Copyright © 2012 Guido Lombardi et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


Mercury is added to the biosphere by anthropogenic activities raising the question of whether changes in the human chromatin, induced by mercury, in a parental generation could allow adaptation of their descendants to mercury. We review the history of Andean mining since pre-Hispanic times in Huancavelica, Peru. Despite the persistent degradation of the biosphere today, no overt signs of mercury toxicity could be discerned in present day inhabitants. However, mercury is especially toxic to the autonomic nervous system (ANS). We, therefore, tested ANS function and biologic rhythms, under the control of the ANS, in 5 Huancavelicans and examined the metal content in their hair. Mercury levels varied from none to 1.014 ppm, significantly less than accepted standards. This was confirmed by microfocused synchrotron X-ray fluorescence analysis. Biologic rhythms were abnormal and hair growth rate per year, also under ANS control, was reduced (𝑃<0.001). Thus, evidence of mercury’s toxicity in ANS function was found without other signs of intoxication. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis of partial transgenerational inheritance of tolerance to mercury in Huancavelica, Peru. This would generally benefit survival in the Anthropocene, the man-made world, we now live in.