When one of our adult teeth is knocked out by a baseball, we can’t just grow it back. But if a fish loses a tooth, it can grow a new one to replace it. How can we learn from our friends underwater? Researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology and King’s College in London are now searching for a way for human epithelial tissue to grow back new teeth by studying the way the structures in Lake Malawi cichlids change into teeth and taste buds.
The scientists also studied dental differentiation in mice. The results showed that the period during which the structures required for growing new teeth is active may be longer than previously estimated.
According to a professor at the Georgia Tech school of biology, researchers discovered that there is developmental plasticity between taste buds and teeth and are attempting to figure out how pathways lead cells toward dental or sensory growth.
Because fish don’t have tongues, their teeth and taste buds are mixed together. In the case of one species of Lake Malawi cichlids, which mostly eat plankton, few teeth are needed. These fish uses its eyes to locate food and swallows food without breaking it down. However, another species depends on algae, which needs to be scraped from rocky lake structures, for its food source. This species requires a lot more taste buds and teeth.
When the researchers crossed the species, they discovered ample teeth and taste bud variation in the second generation of hybrids. Examining the genetic differences in the hybrids allowed the researchers to determine genetic factors of variation.
There are “developmental switches” that signal epithelial cells to grow either dental or sensory structures. Both teeth and taste buds come from the same type of epithelial tissue in the developing jaws of embryonic fish. They are modified later to form either soft taste buds or teeth that contain hard enamel. This new information demonstrates that the epithelium in the mouth of humans can be flexible and may be able to regenerate new teeth.
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