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July 29, 2016
MSCA study could improve dental treatment

Research into the evolutionary changes in human jaws under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie Actions (MSCA) pillar of Horizon 2020 could help improve dental treatment and even regrow lost teeth

The structure of the human jaw is continuing to evolve today due in part to changes in diet. The definitive causality, however, remains obscure, but researchers say there are adaptations in the jaw dating back to the transition between hunting/gathering and agriculture, which began about 10,000 years ago.

Dr Ekaterina Stansfield, principal investigator in the BioMan research project carried out under an MSCA research fellowship at the University of York, UK, said: “The supposition is that as humans became more settled, the demands on their jaws changed. Jaw size and development may be driven more by usage, rather than predetermined by genetics.

“We are looking at micro-evolution – the evolution within one species over a prolonged period of time. We hope to be able to show how the transition to agriculture has changed us and how this is continuing at the present time.”

BioMan research supervisor Professor Paul O’Higgins has found that the consumption of softer food in recent centuries has coincided with the loss of the third molar or ‘wisdom teeth’, which have been present in all hunter-gatherer fossils.

The research therefore has long-term medical applications. O’Higgins said: “Hunter-gatherers all have [wisdom teeth]. And the early farmers have all got them. We have only lost them in the last few hundred years, as diets became extremely processed and extremely soft.

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