Fish could help develop new dental treatments

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Prickly pufferfish could hold the key to why humans do not continually replace their teeth and may lead to advances in dental therapies, Sheffield University academics have revealed.

New research focusing on tooth development in the deadly fish – unchanged through evolution – shows that after the first generation of teeth the fish form a distinctive and unusual ‘parrot like’ beak.

The study, which is the first time scientists have analysed the development of the fish’s unique beak, also supports the idea that evolution does not make jumps, as its distinctive bite has been modified from a set of genes responsible for tooth development and preserved over 400 million years.

Dr Gareth Fraser, of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, who led the project, said: “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 fish’s 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, fish 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 us understand how we can use our knowledge of tooth replacement in fish to facilitate advances in dental therapies for humans.”