Are Your Tooth Inside-Out or Exterior-In? – The Bristol Dinosaur Venture

Visitor Writer – Sophie Pollard
Present Palaeobiology MSc Pupil

Tooth, or a minimum of tooth-like buildings, will be present in each jawed vertebrate group residing in the present day, and it’s uncommon to seek out any lineage which has misplaced them utterly. There isn’t a doubt that enamel have been a key improvement in vertebrate evolutionary historical past, however the place did they arrive from within the first place?

The reply is far more sophisticated than you may anticipate!

What are the arguments?

Fashions for the origin of enamel usually boil down to 2 arguments: outside-in, and inside-out. The skin-in speculation originated within the 19th century when researchers began to note the similarities between the buildings of enamel and dermal denticles (the robust scales which make up the pores and skin of sharks and rays).

Each enamel and dermal denticles will be known as “odontodes”, a construction consisting of dentine with a hyper-mineralised cap of enamel or enameloid, each of which relaxation on a bone base for attachment. This similarity led to the idea that enamel are merely specialised scales that migrated inside our fishy ancestors’ mouths some 500 million years in the past.

This concept was largely unchallenged till the mid-90s, as proof began to mount for another speculation, turning outside-in, inside-out. The brand new, “inside-out” mannequin, recommended that enamel developed a number of completely different instances, originating contained in the pharynx of historic vertebrates utterly independently of scales.

No “lacking hyperlink”, residing or fossil, has ever been discovered displaying dermal odontodes extending into the oral cavity, so there is no such thing as a sure-fire technique to show or disprove both argument, however we are able to make some observations.

Trying on the fossils

It’s clear from the fossil document that dermal denticles appeared earlier than jaws. Many ostracoderm teams had dermal odontodes. Ostracoderms usually are not a phylogenetic group, however an unofficial title for the various teams of extensively armoured jawless vertebrates that are associated to the primary jawed vertebrates.

A phylogeny showing the distribution of skin & oral denticles and tooth-like structures in vertebrates.
The distribution of pores and skin denticles, oral denticles and tooth-like buildings in vertebrates (Donoghue and Rücklin, 2016)

Nonetheless, the inside-out speculation considers this statement irrelevant, because it claims that the origin of enamel predated each dermal scales and jaws.

Conodonts (an extinct group of jawless vertebrates thought to have diverged from the lineage resulting in jawed vertebrates extra lately than fashionable jawless vertebrates) had tooth-like buildings, and so did the extinct thelodont, Loganellia.


An image of conodont tooth structures next to a reconstruction of a conodont. Next to it is a fossil of a thelodont with a reconstruction of the animal.
Left: Conodont reconstruction (Credit score to the Tree of Life Net Venture). Proper: The Thelodont species Loganellia (Thelodont refers to a category of extinct Palaeozoic jawless fishes which had distinctive scales versus plates).

So, enamel got here earlier than each jaws and scales? Effectively, as standard, we now have to take the proof with a grain of salt. There isn’t a technique to inform if the tooth-like buildings in each of those circumstances are literally homologous to enamel, or in the event that they merely look the half, and don’t have anything to do with true enamel.

Tooth in placoderms

Placoderms make up a sister clade to fashionable chondrichthyans (cartilaginous fishes resembling sharks and rays) and Osteichthyans (bony fishes), and in some circumstances, possess enamel, making them necessary to the outside-in/inside-out debate.

Many arthrodirans (a very derived group of placoderms together with Dunkleosteus) had enamel, though there’s debate over whether or not these are true enamel as they lacked an enameloid cap.

A mounted skull of the extinct placoderm Dunkleosteus
A Dunkleosteus specimen at present housed within the Vienna Pure Historical past Museum.

The within-out argument means that these buildings usually are not homologous to enamel, and are only one instance of the various instances enamel have developed throughout completely different lineages, citing the dearth of tooth buildings in earlier, much less derived placoderms as proof.

This isn’t the case, nonetheless, for Romundina, a much less derived acanthothoracid placoderm which lived within the early Devonian shallow seas. Not solely did Romundina have enamel, however these enamel had enameloid caps, suggesting that arthrodire enamel really be homologous to true enamel having misplaced this enameloid cap moderately than creating independently.

A reconstruction of the placoderm Romundina
Reconstruction of the placoderm, Romundina, from the early Devonian of Canada.

We all know that Exterior-In is feasible

A paper printed in April 2022 lent a little bit extra help to exterior in, by confirming that dermal scales are utterly able to creating the type of advanced construction that we see in enamel.

It appeared on the rostral denticles (the spikes you see on the elongated snout of a sawfish or sawsharks) of Ischyrhiza mira, an extinct ray (with an look far more just like in the present day’s sawfish) from the late Cretaceous, which might have lived in shallow coastal waters and grown as much as about two meters.

A reconstruction of Onchopristis
A reconstruction of Onchopristis, an in depth relative of I. mira.

Regardless of being specialised physique scales, scanning electron microscopy revealed that the enameloid of I. mira’s rostral denticles was far more intricate than anticipated, and intently resembles that present in shark enamel. The construction offers an additional degree of hardness to the odontode construction, which might have been helpful for foraging and self-defence within the case of I. mira.

Rostral denticles of I. mira.
Rostral denticles of I. mira, housed at Rutgers College Geology Museum.

Though it doesn’t give any conclusive proof for the controversy, this denticle construction lends plenty of help to the plausibility of the outside-in speculation, displaying that it’s doable for exterior odontodes to kind a fancy, tooth-like construction, which can have later migrated into the mouths of early vertebrates.

Germ Layers

The usage of germ layers is a brand new addition to the controversy. The tissue forming the exterior epithelium (pores and skin) is derived from ectoderm while the epithelial lining of the digestive tract is derived from endoderm. We all know that scales require ectoderm-derived epithelium with a purpose to develop, so it stands to cause that if we work out what sort of epithelium cells enamel are rising on, we are able to work out the place they got here from. Straightforward proper?

Effectively, research are fairly conclusive on one principal conclusion: that the epithelium from which enamel develop can have an origin which is ectodermal, endodermal or a mix of the 2. So, whether or not the cells of an space are derived from ectoderm or endoderm in all probability doesn’t matter in any respect, a minimum of within the few species for which we now have knowledge (most of what we now have is predicated on animals that are best to maintain in a lab, not essentially the perfect analogy for early vertebrates).

That knowledge does present, nonetheless, that the interplay between cells derived from the 2 layers tends to happen throughout tooth improvement, albeit with the floor layer all the time taking up ectodermal traits.

The place will we go from right here?

Until a fossil miraculously turns as much as give us all of the solutions, it’s unlikely that we are going to ever have a agency clarification for the origin of enamel, however there are issues we are able to do to get just a bit bit nearer to at least one.

There isn’t a residing creature shut sufficient to the primary tooth-possessing vertebrates to precisely symbolize them in a examine of germ layers, however the pattern dimension for these research might all the time stand to get quite a bit wider. Possibly a little bit (or extra seemingly quite a bit) extra perception into the germ layer contribution to tooth improvement might paint us a clearer image of the place our dental historical past started.

A cartoon of a parent and child sawfish over a basin. The child is holding a toothbrush. The caption reads "Now the left side..."
Picture credit score to Dom Pollard

Sophie Pollard is a present Palaeobiology MSc scholar on the College of Bristol.

Article edited by Rhys Charles


Cook dinner, T.D. et al. (2022) Advanced enameloid microstructure of Ischyrhiza mira rostral denticles. Journal of Anatomy. 241: 616 – 627

Donoghue, P.C.J., & Rücklin, M. (2016) The ins and outs of the evolutionary origin of enamel. Evolution & Improvement. 18: 19 – 30

Huysseune, A., Cerny, R., & Witten, P.E. (2022) The conundrum of pharyngeal enamel origin: the function of germ layers, pouches, and gill slits. Organic Opinions. 97: 414 – 447

Rücklin, M. et al. (2012) Improvement of enamel and jaws within the earliest jawed vertebrates. Nature. 491: 748-751

Rücklin, M., & Donoghue, P.C.J. (2015) Romundina and the evolutionary origin of enamel. Biology Letters. 11: 20150326

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