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Soft Dentin Results in Unique Flexible Teeth in Scraping Catfishes

Tom Geerinckx, Ann Huysseune, Matthieu Boone, Myriam Claeys, Marjolein Couvreur, Barbara De Kegel, Peter Mast, Luc Van Hoorebeke, Kim Verbeken and Dominique Adriaens
Physiological and Biochemical Zoology: Ecological and Evolutionary Approaches
Vol. 85, No. 5 (September/October 2012), pp. 481-490
DOI: 10.1086/667532
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/10.1086/667532
Page Count: 10
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Soft Dentin Results in Unique Flexible Teeth in Scraping Catfishes
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Abstract

AbstractTeeth are generally used for actions in which they experience mainly compressive forces acting toward the base. The ordered tooth enamel(oid) and dentin structures contribute to the high compressive strength but also to the minor shear and tensile strengths. Some vertebrates, however, use their teeth for scraping, with teeth experiencing forces directed mostly normal to their long axis. Some scraping suckermouth catfishes (Loricariidae) even appear to have flexible teeth, which have not been found in any other vertebrate taxon. Considering the mineralized nature of tooth tissues, the notion of flexible teeth seems paradoxical. We studied teeth of five species, testing and measuring tooth flexibility, and investigating tooth (micro)structure using transmission electron microscopy, staining, computed tomography scanning, and scanning electron microscopy–energy-dispersive spectrometry. We quantified the extreme bending capacity of single teeth (up to 180°) and show that reorganizations of the tooth (micro)structure and extreme hypomineralization of the dentin are adaptations preventing breaking by allowing flexibility. Tooth shape and internal structure appear to be optimized for bending in one direction, which is expected to occur frequently when feeding (scraping) under natural conditions. Not all loricariid catfishes possess flexible teeth, with the trait potentially having evolved more than once. Flexible teeth surely rank among the most extreme evolutionary novelties in known mineralized biological materials and might yield a better understanding of the processes of dentin formation and (hypo)mineralization in vertebrates, including humans.

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