Are Your Tooth Inside-Out or Outdoors-In? – The Bristol Dinosaur Challenge


Visitor Writer – Sophie Pollard
Present Palaeobiology MSc Scholar

Tooth, or no less than tooth-like buildings, might be present in each jawed vertebrate group residing immediately, and it’s uncommon to seek out any lineage which has misplaced them fully. There isn’t any doubt that tooth have been a key improvement in vertebrate evolutionary historical past, however the place did they arrive from within the first place?

The reply is rather more sophisticated than you would possibly anticipate!

What are the arguments?

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

Each tooth and dermal denticles might 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 assumption that tooth 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 an alternate speculation, turning outside-in, inside-out. The brand new, “inside-out” mannequin, recommended that tooth developed a number of totally different instances, originating contained in the pharynx of historical vertebrates fully independently of scales.

No “lacking hyperlink”, residing or fossil, has ever been discovered exhibiting dermal odontodes extending into the oral cavity, so there isn’t any 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 file that dermal denticles appeared earlier than jaws. Many ostracoderm teams had dermal odontodes. Ostracoderms usually are not a phylogenetic group, however an unofficial identify for the numerous 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)

Nevertheless, the inside-out speculation considers this remark irrelevant, because it claims that the origin of tooth 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 trendy 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 Challenge). Proper: The Thelodont species Loganellia (Thelodont refers to a category of extinct Palaeozoic jawless fishes which had distinctive scales versus plates).

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

Tooth in placoderms

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

Many arthrodirans (a very derived group of placoderms together with Dunkleosteus) had tooth, though there may be debate over whether or not these are true tooth 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 tooth, and are only one instance of the numerous instances tooth have developed throughout totally different lineages, citing the dearth of tooth buildings in earlier, much less derived placoderms as proof.

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

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

We all know that Outdoors-In is feasible

A paper revealed in April 2022 lent a bit of extra help to outdoors in, by confirming that dermal scales are fully able to creating the sort of complicated construction that we see in tooth.

It seemed 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 rather more just like immediately’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, a detailed relative of I. mira.

Regardless of being specialised physique scales, scanning electron microscopy revealed that the enameloid of I. mira’s rostral denticles was rather more intricate than anticipated, and carefully resembles that present in shark tooth. The construction gives an additional stage 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 talk, this denticle construction lends plenty of help to the plausibility of the outside-in speculation, exhibiting that it’s doable for exterior odontodes to type a fancy, tooth-like construction, which can have later migrated into the mouths of early vertebrates.

Germ Layers

Using germ layers is a brand new addition to the talk. 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 the intention to develop, so it stands to cause that if we work out what sort of epithelium cells tooth are rising on, we are able to work out the place they got here from. Straightforward proper?

Nicely, research are fairly conclusive on one primary conclusion: that the epithelium from which tooth 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, no less than within the few species for which we have now knowledge (most of what we have now is predicated on animals that are best to maintain in a lab, not essentially the very best analogy for early vertebrates).

That knowledge does present, nevertheless, 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 over ectodermal traits.

The place can we go from right here?

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

There isn’t any residing creature shut sufficient to the primary tooth-possessing vertebrates to precisely signify them in a research of germ layers, however the pattern measurement for these research might all the time stand to get quite a bit wider. Perhaps a bit of (or extra possible 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


Prepare 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 tooth. Evolution & Growth. 18: 19 – 30

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

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

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


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