Doctoral Dissertation Research: Deciduous Dental Phenotypes and Biodistance Analyses

Project: Research project

Project Details


Doctoral Dissertation Research: Deciduous Dental Phenotypes and Biodistance Analyses Doctoral Dissertation Research: Developing an infrastructure for biodistance analyses using deciduous dental phenotypes OVERVIEW One hallmark of the human condition is a protracted childhood characterized by physical growth, cognitive development, and intensive nurturing within a tightly bonded and protective social group. As such, studies of children are critical for a complete understanding of social behavior and biological group structure, often explored in modern hunter-gatherers to infer the evolution of prosocial behavior in our species. Kinship and relatedness factor strongly in this literature; however, modeling the evolution of human sociality requires extrapolation under uniformitarian assumptions. Bioarchaeology solves this problem by using heritable dental data and spatial analysis of cemeteries to infer social group composition in prehistoric societies. This is a robust literature; however, few studies have verified the accuracy of these methods for recognizing child relatives using deciduous teeth. As such, arguably one of the more critical determinants of group structure (childhood and fertility) remains under-explored due to a lack of baseline data on dental trait sensitivity to genetic relatedness. The proposed research will correct this by developing an infrastructure for incorporating deciduous teeth into biodistance research. The project has three goals: 1) to quantitatively analyze the developmental program underlying deciduous dental phenotypes, 2) to evaluate the performance of deciduous dental phenotypes for accurately reconstructing known genealogical relationships, and 3) to compare the performance of deciduous versus permanent dental phenotypes for reconstructing known genealogical relationships. To accomplish these objectives, the Co-PI will quantify the shape and size of deciduous and permanent tooth crowns from stone dental casts representing individuals of known pedigree deriving from four distinct global populations. Biological distances generated from the deciduous dental data will be compared to the known genetic distances between individuals to determine how deciduous traits can be used to accurately reconstruct genealogies. These biological distances will also be compared to those generated from permanent dental phenotypes as well as environmental distances generated from health history data to examine potential developmental and environmental factors that affect crown morphology. INTELLECTUAL MERIT This project will generate baseline data that contribute to broad-scale, generalizable knowledge impacting several academic disciplines, including the evolutionary sciences, bioarchaeology, applied clinical dentistry, and forensic anthropology. The projects outcomes will empirically ground-truth untested assumptions that form the basis of biological distance analysis and explore the effects of environmental and developmental factors on tooth crown form. Ultimately, the proposed research will provide an infrastructure for incorporating children into bioarchaeological research, leading to more accurate and holistic understandings of group composition and structure as well as biological and social correlates of relatedness. For example, results of the project will have critical implications for archaeological research that explores the biological and social experiences of family and appraises their (pre)historic nature over protracted time periods. The Co-PI has published in peer-reviewed journals using the proposed methods and has completed a pilot study, the results of which support the feasibility and likely success of the project. BROADER IMPACTS As an ASU affiliate, the Co-PI is uniquely positioned to improve upon the Arizona State University Dental Anthropology System (ASUDAS)a suite of dental data collection standardsthrough the addition of a sub-system for deciduous teeth. The Co-PI will cast exemplar specimens that capture a range of deciduous dental trait expression to create reference plaques that will accompany data collection standards for use in future anthropological, clinical, or forensic studies and thus enhance infrastructure for research and teaching. The Co-PIs affiliation with the University of Adelaide (Australia) will foster career-long international, collaborative relationships that will precipitate multi-institutional, co-authored publications and grants. While collecting data in Adelaide, she will offer workshops on ASUDAS to acquaint early-stage Australian researchers with methods developed at her home institution. Project results will benefit society by improving forensic efforts to identify missing children and by providing information on dental inheritance that impacts the practice of clinical dentistry and orthodontics.
Effective start/end date9/1/158/31/16


  • National Science Foundation (NSF): $18,255.00


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