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A novel approach to characterizing prismless enamel in modern and fossil reptiles

Project description

Digging up dental anatomy of ancient reptiles

Palaeontologists recently discovered that a reptile from 95 million years ago developed a strong, wear-resistant tooth enamel (common in humans but rare among reptiles) as its diet changed from meat to plants. The EU-funded ENEVOLVE project will study the prismless enamel that caps the teeth of all non-mammalian vertebrates. It will focus on living and extinct reptiles. Studies show this prismless enamel evolved to cope with the forces of grasping and cutting through prey, crushing hard shells and grinding plant material, and it has persisted for over 300 million years. The project will shed light on the framework for describing the structural and chemical variation within prismless enamel associated with different tooth functions and for teasing apart the key alterations resulting from fossilisation.

Objective

ENEVOLVE is an interdisciplinary approach to test the tissue properties of dental enamel in living and extinct reptiles. This project addresses the need in functional morphology and palaeontology for quantitative methods that can characterize the structure and chemistry of prismless enamel, which caps the teeth of all non-mammalian vertebrates. Although structurally simpler than its mammalian counterpart, prismless enamel has evolved to cope with the forces of grasping and cutting through prey, crushing hard shells, and grinding plant material and it has persisted for over 300 million years. In order to assess how this enamel type has evolved to suit these disparate functions, we will integrate advanced structural, chemical, and mechanical analyses of modern and fossil reptile teeth from four dental morphotypes. By characterizing enamel under optical and electron microscopy, X-ray microdiffraction, and X-ray and vibrational spectroscopy, ENEVOLVE provides an innovative framework for describing the structural and chemical variation within prismless enamel associated with different tooth functions, and for teasing apart the key alterations resulting from fossilization. These techniques then provide valuable context for applying guided micro- and nanomechanical testing of prismless enamel, which will reveal how different prismless enamel structures and compositions help maintain teeth under different stresses. The framework and results stemming from ENEVOLVE will guide future form-function studies of mineralized tissues in vertebrates, but may also reveal new candidate structures for biomimetics and enamel restoration.

Coordinator

KING'S COLLEGE LONDON
Net EU contribution
€ 224 933,76
Address
STRAND
WC2R 2LS London
United Kingdom

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Region
London Inner London — West Westminster
Activity type
Higher or Secondary Education Establishments
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Total cost
€ 224 933,76