Did you know that a single alligator can make 2,000 to 3,000 teeth in a lifetime?
It’s remarkable – and scientists now say they have figured out how they do it.
In a new tooth regeneration study published in the May 13 issue of the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, researchers reported pockets of stem cells at the base of each tooth allow alligators to renew their teeth.
Using a variety of methods — including studying cells under a microscope, 3-D imaging and experimentation inside and outside the body — researchers at the University of Southern California and other institutions found a thin layer of slow-growing stem cells that seemed to be responsible for replacing the reptiles’ lost chompers.
The cells sit in a layer of tissue called the dental lamina. People also have dental lamina tissue, but it goes dormant in young children soon after they finish making their first and only set of replacement teeth.
By learning more about how the lamina stays active in alligators, scientists hope they may one day be able to reawaken the tooth regeneration process in people! That means, in the future, we could have a backup set of teeth waiting for us in case something happens.
Can you imagine?
Other scientists say they are close to identifying some of the key growth factors that may spur dental stem cells into action.
“We can inject things into the jaws of the gecko and we can follow the way teeth are replaced using dental wax bites,” said Joy Richman, a professor of oral health sciences at the University of British Columbia, in Vancouver.
Richman said geckos are somewhat easier to study than alligators because they make new teeth every five weeks or so, instead of every year, as gators do.
This is why I love science. There’s always something new – it’s always changing, always evolving.
Image source: Endless Loop Photography