Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Genetic Origin of the 1st Tooth

An ancient gene network is co-opted for teeth on old and new jaws. G.J. Fraser, et al. PLoS Biol 7(2): e1000031.

Schematic drawing (lateral view) of the generalized cichlid cranial skeleton, showing the relative location of the oral jaws (purple) and the pharyngeal jaws of PA7 (blue)

Scientists report that a common gene regulatory circuit controls the development of all dentitions, from the first teeth in the throats of jawless fishes that lived half a billion years ago, to the incisors and molars of modern vertebrates.
"It's likely that every tooth made throughout the evolution of vertebrates has used this core set of genes," said Gareth Fraser.

The first vertebrates to have teeth were a group of eel-like jawless fish known as the conodonts that had teeth not in their mouth, but lining the throat. This particular group is long since extinct, but some modern fish retain teeth in the throat (pharynx). Dr. Fraser and colleagues studied tooth formation in a group of fish known for their rapid rate of evolution, the cichlids of Africa's Lake Malawi. The cichlids have teeth both in their oral jaws, like humans, and deep in their throats on a pharyngeal jaw. A co-author of the paper, Darrin Hulsey, first identified a surprising positive correlation between the number of teeth in the oral jaw and in the throat in these fish.

The Coevolutionary History of Jaws and Dentitions. Full caption HERE

"Originally, I thought there wouldn't be a correlation due to the developmental differences and the evolutionary distinction between the two jaw regions, but it turns out there is," explained Fraser. "So fish that have fewer oral teeth also have fewer pharyngeal teeth. This shows that on some level there's a genetic control that governs the number of teeth in both regions."

The team investigated what this control might be by using a technique localizing gene expression in the cells during tooth development, known as in situ hybridization, and found that a common genetic network governs teeth in the two locations. link