A computational model of teeth and the developmental origins of morphological variation

Isaac Salazar-Ciudad, Jukka Jernvall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

202 Citations (Scopus)


The relationship between the genotype and the phenotype, or the genotypeĝ€"phenotype map, is generally approached with the tools of multivariate quantitative genetics and morphometrics. Whereas studies of development and mathematical models of development may offer new insights into the genotypeĝ€"phenotype map, the challenge is to make them useful at the level of microevolution. Here we report a computational model of mammalian tooth development that combines parameters of genetic and cellular interactions to produce a three-dimensional tooth from a simple tooth primordia. We systematically tinkered with each of the model parameters to generate phenotypic variation and used geometric morphometric analyses to identify, or developmentally ordinate, parameters best explaining population-level variation of real teeth. To model the full range of developmentally possible morphologies, we used a population sample of ringed seals (Phoca hispida ladogensis). Seal dentitions show a high degree of variation, typically linked to the lack of exact occlusion. Our model suggests that despite the complexity of development and teeth, there may be a simple basis for dental variation. Changes in single parameters regulating signalling during cusp development may explain shape variation among individuals, whereas a parameter regulating epithelial growth may explain serial, tooth-to-tooth variation along the jaw. Our study provides a step towards integrating the genotype, development and the phenotype. © 2010 Macmillan Publishers Limited. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)583-586
Publication statusPublished - 25 Mar 2010


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