The 82nd Annual Meeting of the American Association of Physical Anthropologists (2013)


The Development of the Dentition as a Complex Adaptive System

ALAN H. BROOK1,2, TOBY HUGHES1, GRANT C. TOWNSEND1 and MATTHEW D. BROOK O'DONNELL3.

1School of Dentistry, University of Adelaide, 2School of Dentistry, Queen Mary University of London, 3Institute for Social Research, University of Michigan

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Complexity and Diversity affect biological systems and societies. General characteristics of Complex Adaptive Systems include self adaptation and organisation, emergence, multitasking, robustness, critical phases, diversity and compatability with such statistical models as Thresholds and Scale Free Networks.

Objectives: Investigate whether dental development shows the general and statistical characteristics of a Complex Adaptive System. Methods: Examine data on normal and abnormal dental development for these characteristics.

Results: Self adaptation and organisation occur as interactions between genes, epigenetic and environmental factors lead to the emergence of cells, germs and mineralised teeth. Multitasking is seen as signalling pathways act simultaneously and reiteratively during initiation and morphogenesis. Tooth germs that do not attain a critical stage during development may undergo apoptosis. Diversity is evident in the variations of tooth number, size, shape and mineralisation. Statistical investigation of these variations in humans has shown that males have significantly larger teeth and higher prevalences of megadontia and supernumerary teeth(p<0.05), supporting the published Threshold Model. Image Analysis of tooth dimensions showed they followed the Power Law distribution of a Scale Free Network, with the first 8 of 34 factors in upper lateral incisors accounting for 94.4% of the total variation.

Discussion: Complexity and Diversity in dental development enables adaptation to different environments and change during evolution.

Conclusion: The development of the dentition shows the general and statistical characteristics of a Complex Adaptive System.

This project was part of the studies funded by Wellcome Programme Grant 3256

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