Human Teeth Share Genes With the Pufferfish

Dentistry Today


Human teeth evolved from the same genes that can be found in the beaked teeth of the pufferfish, according to an international research team. While all vertebrates have some form of dental regeneration potential, pufferfish use the same stem cells for tooth regeneration as humans, but only replace some teeth with elongated bands that form their characteristic beak.

“Our study questioned how pufferfish make a beak, and now we’ve discovered the stem cells responsible and the genes that govern this process of continuous regeneration. These are also involved in general vertebrate tooth regeneration, including in humans,” said Gareth Fraser, PhD, of the University of Sheffield Department of Animal and Plant Sciences.

“The fact that all vertebrates regenerate their teeth in the same way with a set of conserved stem cells means that we can use these studies in more obscure fishes to provide clues to how we can address questions of tooth loss in humans,” Fraser said.

The pufferfish beak comprises 4 elongated tooth bands that are replaced again and again. But instead of losing teeth when they are replaced, the pufferfish fuses multiple generations of teeth together, forming the beak and enabling them to crush hard prey.

“We are interested in the developmental origin of the pufferfish beak as it presents a special opportunity to understand how evolutionary novelty can arise in vertebrates more generally,” said Alex Thiery, a PhD student at the University of Sheffield and study contributor.

“Vertebrates are extraordinarily diverse. However, this doesn’t mean that they are dissimilar in the way in which they develop,” Thiery said. “Our work on the pufferfish beak demonstrates the dramatic effect that small changes in development can have.”

The study, “Spatially Restricted Dental Regeneration Drives Pufferfish Beak Development,” was published by the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

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