The pufferfish is a very curious animal for lots of reasons; it swallows air or water to make itself larger and more threatening, it combines its combining pectoral, dorsal, anal, and caudal fins into one set of fins (like a seahorse), and it is often super poisonous. But Dr. Gareth Fraser of Sheffield University is focused on the puffer for a different reason: its teeth.
The puffer, like lots of bony fish (meaning, not cartilaginous), constantly regrows its teeth. The puffer doesn't have delineated teeth like most other fish, though; instead, after its first set of teeth have fallen out (like human baby teeth), it grows a solid structure that looks like a beak. This beak is made of horizontally growing layers of dentite, the usual tooth material for fish, but appears as a single band.
Fraser managed to map the specific cells responsible for the constant regrowing of teeth in the puffer. That's of great interest to us, because humans, unlike lots of other animals, only grow two sets of teeth. Your baby teeth fall out, then you grow your adult teeth, and then...that's it. That's all you get. And that's less than ideal, as most any professional hockey player can tell you (through gaps in their teeth).
Interestingly, Dr. Fraser thinks humans may evolve, in millions of years, the ability to regrow teeth past that second set. "With our extended lives and modern diets, the limited supply of human teeth is really no longer fit for purpose," he said. By figuring out exactly how fish regrow teeth, he may be able to accelerate that process of evolution.
So play hockey without fear! A fix for your broken grill may be in the works.
[via University of Sheffield]
It occurred to me recently that information is our competitive playground as a species. When I heard that there is more information in a Sunday paper than a person living in the 16th century would've consumed in their lifetime, the idea dawned that just as the information age transformed our intersocial connections, so it will our evolution.
I think the next stage in human evolution, or the species to follow us, will have a very powerful mind. They will be able to take in more information, process/understand/ and make use of that information while navigating complex social environments. Their memory and calculating capacity will far exceed ours.
Think about it... today we're all bombarded with tremendous amounts of information. Very little of it do we actually "capture." But those of us who can tease out details of that information are likely to find some kind of edge, be it social or economic. Either way, we could find ourselves to be more successful in reproduction. Whatever slight advantages those individuals possess will spread throughout the population, become magnified and focused, and eventually a new "man" will emerge with mental faculties far exceeding even the best of today.
To bring it home, our "competitive playground" (a term I've coined) is information and what we do with it. There are minute advantages that surround us all the time and our ability to seize on those advantages is limited by our ability to process all the incoming information. More processing/memory/retention combined with savvy social navigating will yield reproductive success.
As far as a timeline, I feel that for that evolution to truly take hold, you need a small concentration of those genes to be isolated from the general population. Look to Madagascar and the Galapagos Islands. A few individuals possessing a certain set of genes produced rapid evolution. Mankind being as large in number as we are, whatever gains are made on focusing certain traits can be quickly diluted into the +7 Billion people on the planet. So what you'll end up looking at is possibly evolution based on socio-economic level and geography. You might have parallel evolution based on income level and geography, with those at the extremes evolving the fastest, while the bloated middle group is more mobile and can choose from a larger pool of potential mates.
What's this "evolve in millions of years" nonsense? There is no selective pressure being placed on our population. The ONLY way we'd somehow evolve more teeth is if there was actually selective pressure (read: people dying) on those who lose their teeth. Besides, we're humans - we'll probably just do it ourselves in less than a century.
And jeez, if it's regrowing teeth we want, can't we get the genes from sharks or crocodiles, since they actually grow new TEETH and not a friggin' BEAK?
I share your frustration. This fundamental misunderstanding of evolution crops up time and again in "popular science" articles. Evolution is a very slow and costly (people have to die) learning algorithm that humans have mostly replaced with much faster learning algorithms.
We use our brains to solve problems now rather than wait for thousands of years for evolution to do it. We are tool-makers. To solve the problem of people having no teeth, we make false teeth. To adapt to a cold environment we build well-insulated houses rather than evolving thick furry coats.
We will not evolve tentacles, better eyes, antennae etc. Any survival advantage/usefulness an adaptation will have will instead be served by the development of a tool.
If the viability of a future species relies on its ability to regenerate teeth, then the British are likely doomed to extinction.