Environmental influence on the phenotype: Morphological variation in human dentition

Riga, Alessandro (2014) Environmental influence on the phenotype: Morphological variation in human dentition, [Dissertation thesis], Alma Mater Studiorum Università di Bologna. Dottorato di ricerca in Biodiversità ed evoluzione, 25 Ciclo. DOI 10.6092/unibo/amsdottorato/6416.
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This work is about the role that environment plays in the production of evolutionary significant variations. It starts with an historical introduction about the concept of variation and the role of environment in its production. Then, I show how a lack of attention to these topics may lead to serious mistakes in data interpretation. A statistical re-analysis of published data on the effects of malnutrition on dental eruption, shows that what has been interpreted as an increase in the mean value, is actually linked to increase of variability. In Chapter 3 I present the topic of development as a link between variability and environmental influence, giving a review of the possible mechanisms by which development influences evolutionary dynamics. Chapter 4 is the core chapter of the thesis; I investigated the role of environment in the development of dental morphology. I used dental hypoplasia as a marker of stress, characterizing two groups. Comparing the morphology of upper molars in the two groups, three major results came out: (i) there is a significant effect of environmental stressors on the overall morphology of upper molars; (ii) the developmental response increases morphological variability of the stressed population; (iii) increase of variability is directional: stressed individuals have increased cusps dimensions and number. I also hypothesized the molecular mechanisms that could be responsible of the observed effects. In Chapter 5, I present future perspectives for developing this research. The direction of dental development response is the same direction of the trend in mammalian dental evolution. Since malnutrition triggers the developmental response, and this particular kind of stressor must have been very common in our class evolutionary history, I propose the possibility that environmental stress actively influenced mammals evolution. Moreover, I discuss the possibility of reconsidering the role of natural selection in the evolution of dental morphology.

Tipologia del documento
Tesi di dottorato
Riga, Alessandro
Dottorato di ricerca
Scuola di dottorato
Scienze biologiche, biomediche e biotecnologiche
Settore disciplinare
Settore concorsuale
Parole chiave
phenotypic plasticity, development, dental morphology
Data di discussione
8 Maggio 2014

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