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Fishing for Teeth

422-million-year-old fish jaw reveals how teeth evolved

15 January 2021

Fishing for Teeth

Life on Earth is the result of millions of years of fine-tuning – an evolution which often hides details of how things gradually became the way they are in extinct species, for curious scientists to discover. Here they use high-resolution x-ray microtomography to picture the jawbone of a fossilised bony fish Lophosteus, revealing its 422-million-year-old teeth (highlighted in gold) and virtually 'removing'the bone to peek at the blood vessels and pulp cavities (blue and green) underneath. This fish was picked for a reason – it’s an early window into the evolution of teeth, showing that structures called dermal odontodes (purple pink and red) developed from similar cells to teeth, becoming nearby 'skin teeth' – the scales in fish like sharks. The co-development of these structures reveals more about the chemical signals driving how teeth develop and grow, and may provide insights into the signals shaping human gnashers too.

Written by John Ankers

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BPoD stands for Biomedical Picture of the Day. Managed by the MRC Laboratory of Medical Sciences until Jul 2023, it is now run independently by a dedicated team of scientists and writers. The website aims to engage everyone, young and old, in the wonders of biology, and its influence on medicine. The ever-growing archive of more than 4000 research images documents over a decade of progress. Explore the collection and see what you discover. Images are kindly provided for inclusion on this website through the generosity of scientists across the globe.

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