ScienceDaily (May 14, 2012) — Prickly pufferfish could hold the key to why humans do not continually replace their teeth and may lead to advances in dental therapies.
The study, which is the first time scientists have analysed the development of the fish´s unique beak, also supports the idea that evolution doesn´t make jumps, as its distinctive bite has been modified from a set of genes responsible for tooth development and preserved over 400 million years.
"As humans only replace their teeth once, fishes and pufferfish in particular, can be looked at as a new model to help us to answer questions like how continuous tooth replacement programmes are maintained throughout life? This would help our understanding of why humans have lost this replacement potential, and furthermore how can we use knowledge of the genetic underpinnings of tooth replacement in fishes to facilitate advances in dental therapies."
Pufferfish are bony fish, which are extremely diverse and make up almost half of all living vertebrates. This group uses a highly conserved process to form a unique beak-like jaw that has made teeth in all vertebrates -- animals with spines -- for millions of years.
The research catalogued the dental development throughout all stages of the pufferfish´s growth, from the production of initial-teeth to the construction of its distinctive `beak´. The research showed that the strange structure didn´t appear from scratch during embryonic development as a complete vertebrate novelty, but rather originates from the modified development of replacement teeth after the formation of an initial dentition, which appears like `normal´ fish teeth.
Pufferfishes are the most bizarre of the bony fishes and have recently become a useful genetic model with the pufferfish genome project near completion. It is hoped it will provide a valuable model system for genetics, genomics, biomedical sciences and now development, not to mention the importance of this group to our understanding of the evolution of morphological novelty and vertebrate diversity.