Ancient Fish: The Use of Enamel May Surprise You

gar fish photo
Long nose gar fish. Photo by Nature Snooper

Adaptation for optimal survival rates in any species, is quite the process. Heritable traits change themselves over time to accommodate changing climates, food supply and  health issues. The most easily understood example of this is when a bacterial infection becomes immune to antibiotics. Though the bacteria is nothing but a plague to humans, its first and foremost need is to survive. It will mutate and become resistant to amoxicillin and other common antibiotics. Thus, scientists must create a new type of medicine to fight off the bacteria, until the bacteria becomes immune to it – and the cycle continues. Humans are a complex life-form, from the way our brains function, to the way our teeth protect themselves. This is where a new study has come into play. Astute researchers from the Institute of Vertebrae Paleontology and Paleoanthropology, along with a few from Uppsala University, endeavored to answer where enamel originated.

Enamel in Fish Skin

The subjects of this study was that of the North American gar fish and two ancient fish fossils. Gar fish are covered in strong, toothy scales, called ganoine, which protect them from certain prey and potentially adverse living conditions. After analyzing the fish’s DNA, the researchers discovered that the enamel was expressed in the fish’s skin – the ganoine. The results were similar for the two 400 million- year-old fossils, as well, except that those fish did not have enamel upon their teeth. Scientists believe this to be due to their primitivity.

The original study, published in Nature, speculated that enamel originated in scales and denticles, not in teeth. The original publication read, “It [enamel] subsequently underwent heterotopic expansion across two highly conserved patterning boundaries (scales/head- shoulder and dermal/oral) within the odontode skeleton”. This means the enamel cells migrated to the teeth over time in the species. Today, we have enamel on our teeth to protect them from the great scourging our teeth undergo from the chewing of food, nightly grinding, our cleaning methods and whatever other fate may befall our teeth. It’s hard to believe a permanent anatomy of our teeth originates from the depths of the sea upon the scales of ancient fish.

You’re Not a Fish

Although enamel is the toughest tissue our bodies produce, it can’t protect us from all of the sweets and bacteria of the world. Like fish, we have many hazards which may ruin our teeth, but we also have the option to go a step further to protect them.  Stay on top of your dental health. You don’t want gingivitis, rotting or missing teeth. Visit Dr. Dan Matthews to keep your teeth healthy, brilliant and white.


Dan Matthews DDS
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