Continuously growing rodent molars result from a predictable quantitative evolutionary change over 50 million years

Cell Rep. 2015 May 5;11(5):673-80. doi: 10.1016/j.celrep.2015.03.064. Epub 2015 Apr 23.


The fossil record is widely informative about evolution, but fossils are not systematically used to study the evolution of stem-cell-driven renewal. Here, we examined evolution of the continuous growth (hypselodonty) of rodent molar teeth, which is fuelled by the presence of dental stem cells. We studied occurrences of 3,500 North American rodent fossils, ranging from 50 million years ago (mya) to 2 mya. We examined changes in molar height to determine whether evolution of hypselodonty shows distinct patterns in the fossil record, and we found that hypselodont taxa emerged through intermediate forms of increasing crown height. Next, we designed a Markov simulation model, which replicated molar height increases throughout the Cenozoic and, moreover, evolution of hypselodonty. Thus, by extension, the retention of the adult stem cell niche appears to be a predictable quantitative rather than a stochastic qualitative process. Our analyses predict that hypselodonty will eventually become the dominant phenotype.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Biological Clocks
  • Biological Evolution*
  • Databases, Factual
  • Fossils
  • Markov Chains
  • Mice
  • Models, Theoretical
  • Molar / diagnostic imaging
  • Molar / physiology*
  • Tomography, X-Ray Computed