Scientists at The University of Sheffield are studying the pufferfish's unique beak. The pufferfish has a distinctive bite that has been modified from a set of genes responsible for tooth development and preserved over 400 million years.
New research focusing on tooth development shows that after the first generation of teeth the program for continued tooth replacement modifies to form a distinctive and unusual 'parrot like' beak.
Dr Gareth Fraser of the University of Sheffield's Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, who led the project, said: "It goes beyond fishes and even morphological novelty; we can use the pufferfish beak as a model for a simplified tooth replacement system -- composed of just four continually replacing teeth that make up the beak structure. It is of great interest for science to understand the process of tooth replacement, to understand the genes that govern the continued supply of teeth and mechanisms of dental stem cell maintenance.
"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.
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.
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