Environmental stress increases variability in the expression of dental cusps

Authors

  • Alessandro Riga,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy
    • Correspondence to: Alessandro Riga, Laboratory of Bioarchaeology and Forensic Osteology, Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences, University of Bologna, via Selmi 3, 40126 Bologna, Italy. E-mail: alessandro.riga2@unibo.it

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  • Maria Giovanna Belcastro,

    1. Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences, University of Bologna, Bologna, Italy
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  • Jacopo Moggi-Cecchi

    1. Department of Biology, University of Florence, Firenze, Italy
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Abstract

Teeth are an important model for developmental studies but, despite an extensive literature on the genetics of dental development, little is known about the environmental influences on dental morphology. Here we test whether and to what extent the environment plays a role in producing morphological variation in human teeth. We selected a sample of modern human skulls and used dental enamel hypoplasia as an environmental stress marker to identify two groups with different stress levels, referred to as SG (“stressed” group) and NSG (“nonstressed” group). We collected data on the occurrence and the relative development of 15 morphological traits on upper molars using a standard methodology (ASU-DAS system) and then we compared the frequencies of the traits in the two groups. Overall, the results suggest that (a) stressors like malnutrition and/or systemic diseases have a significant effect on upper molar morphology; (b) stress generates a developmental response which increases the morphological variability of the SG; and (c) the increase in variability is directional, since individuals belonging to the SG have more developed and extra cusps. These results are consistent with the expectations of the current model of dental development. Am J Phys Anthropol 153:397–407, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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