Origins of Human Teeth Found in Extinct Reptile

Medscape Staff

December 23, 2021

A newly discovered, long-extinct reptile species shows dentition that appears to be a precursor to the pattern of teeth in all mammals today.

What to know:

  • A team of researchers has discovered a new reptile from a fossil site in Utah within the area of the Bear Ears National Monument known as the Valley of the Gods.

  • Shashajaia bermani is one of the oldest members of the Sphenacodontoidea group, which includes the reptiles known as therapsids, which eventually evolved into mammals.

  • However, Shashajaia possessed a set of teeth different from that of related known species of the time. According to Suresh Singh, PhD, the distinct regions between the front and back of the jaw are a precursor to how mammals' mouths are structured today, with incisors and canines in the front and molars in the back.

  • The specialized teeth of Shashajaia likely emerged as an adaptation to catch prey when wetlands in the region about 300 million years ago changed into more arid environments. Canine-like teeth would have provided the animals with a fast bite to catch prey, according to Adam Huttenlocker, PhD, lead author on the study.

  • The new species name translates to "Berman's bear heart," honoring the paleontologist David Berman, who discovered the fossil site in 1989, and the Navajo people within the Bears Ears National Monument.

This is a summary of the article, "Extinct Reptile Discovery Reveals Earliest Origins of Human Teeth, Study Finds," published by the University of Bristol on December 21. The full article can be found on bristol.ac.uk.

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