Chimpanzees share almost all their gene sequences with humans, and this closeness has made them ideal animal models for many human diseases. But similarities between humans and nonhuman primates go beyond genetics. Nonhuman primates are very social animals, travel long distances to find food, sometimes live on the fringes of the wild, and often become afflicted with diseases closely resembling those of humans.

PREP FOR FLIGHT: Handlers prepare chimpanzee Ham, one of the NASA "astrochimps," for his Jan. 31, 1961 flight aboard the Mercury-Redstone 2.
AN APPLE FOR HAM: Ham, still strapped into his special flight couch, reaches for an apple after his flight and recovery from the Atlantic Ocean.

Observing these similarities, some researchers now believe that wild primate populations could serve as virtual distant early warning systems for emerging infectious diseases in humans. In a recent issue of the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, researchers say wild...

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