UMass Amherst researchers offer new analysis of evolution and biomechanics
Using 3D-printed replicas of 200-million-year-old mammal teeth and polymers that mimic insect prey, scientists at the University of Massachusetts Amherst this week provide the first laboratory-tested evidence that the ability for teeth to damage prey is a more significant factor driving evolutionary changes in tooth shape than either bite force or the animal’s energy expenditure.
This unexpected finding should change the way biologists view natural selection as it is studied through dental morphology, the authors say. Tooth shape is linked to diet and the biomechanics of feeding, and much of what is known about early mammalian evolution comes from their fossilized teeth, they point out. Details appear in the current online edition of the British Royal Society journal, Interface.
Evolutionary biology doctoral student Andrew John Conith and his advisor Elizabeth Dumont, with polymer scientists Alfred Crosby and graduate student Michael Imburgia, wanted to better understand how tooth shape influenced diet in early mammals. Dumont and Crosby are both members of the Center for Evolutionary Materials at UMass Amherst, where researchers apply biological thinking to engineering problems.
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