Alligator Teeth are Worth More Than Pearls

An American Alligator sleeping in the everglades taken by Joe Jones

The dental structure of an American Alligator found in the Florida Everglades, taken by Joe Jones

Researchers at the University of Southern California in Dr. Cheng- Ming Chuong’s lab have found that stem cells in the mouth of alligators may regenerate tooth growth in humans.

Humans can only replace their teeth once while alligators can replace theirs up to 50 times in their life though mouth structure and organization is very similar in both organisms.

Chuong extracted 20 teeth from four american alligators and used X-Rays and CT-scans to track the renewal process.  The researchers discovered each tooth is composed of three sections: the functioning tooth, the replacement tooth and the dental lamina which is the material that promotes tooth growth. The cells in the dental lamina were quantified in all four alligators before and after teeth extraction.  Once the functional tooth was removed, the number of stem cells in the dental lamina significantly increased. The more stem cells they found, the faster the tooth was replaced.  It appears from the study that these stem cells are the direct cause of tooth renewal in alligators and possibly other reptiles.

The ultimate goal is to isolate these stem cells and use them to regenerate human teeth.  This knowledge may enable humans who have lost their teeth to grow new ones or to stop uncontrollable tooth generation in people with excess teeth.  These studies findings may also give insight to understanding oral diseases in humans as well.

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Journal Source:

Ping Wu, Xiaoshan Wu, Ting-Xin Jiang, Ruth M. Elsey, Bradley L. Temple, Stephen J. Divers,Travis C. Glenn, Kuo Yuan, Min-Huey Chen, Randall B. Widelitz, and Cheng-Ming Chuong. Specialized stem cell niche enables repetitive renewal of alligator teeth. PNAS 2014. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1213202110

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