Modularity in the mammalian dentition: mice and monkeys share a common dental genetic architecture



The concept of modularity provides a useful tool for exploring the relationship between genotype and phenotype. Here, we use quantitative genetics to identify modularity within the mammalian dentition, connecting the genetics of organogenesis to the genetics of population-level variation for a phenotype well represented in the fossil record. We estimated the correlations between dental traits owing to the shared additive effects of genes (pleiotropy) and compared the pleiotropic relationships among homologous traits in two evolutionary distant taxa—mice and baboons. We find that in both mice and baboons, who shared a common ancestor >65 Ma, incisor size variation is genetically independent of molar size variation. Furthermore, baboon premolars show independent genetic variation from incisors, suggesting that a modular genetic architecture separates incisors from these posterior teeth as well. Such genetic independence between modules provides an explanation for the extensive diversity of incisor size variation seen throughout mammalian evolution—variation uncorrelated with equivalent levels of postcanine tooth size variation. The modularity identified here is supported by the odontogenic homeobox code proposed for the patterning of the rodent dentition. The baboon postcanine pattern of incomplete pleiotropy is also consistent with predictions from the morphogenetic field model. J. Exp. Zool. (Mol. Dev. Evol.) 316:21–49, 2011. © 2010 Wiley-Liss, Inc.