Palaeontologists have discovered the teeth of a long-extinct prehistoric fish, which they claim are the sharpest ever to be recorded
An international team has showed in its research that the teeth of conodonts, a group that first appeared around 500 million years ago, were easily able to bite through the animal's food despite measuring only a millimetre in length.
The fragile nature of the tiny fossil remains of animals that died out more than 200 million years ago meant the team had to create virtual 3D models of the material, using X-rays from a particle accelerator in Japan to conduct research.
One of the study's authors, Dr Alistair Evans of Monash University, said that evidence suggested the conodonts were the first vertebrates to develop teeth. "Conodonts had no other skeleton than the teeth in their mouths.
These came together a bit like scissors, to slice up food," he said. The research findings offered insights into the evolution of teeth in larger vertebrates, including humans, says members of the team which included the University of Bristol in UK.
"The conodonts took an alternative route through evolution to humans, who developed less efficient, but less breakable, blunter teeth, to which greater force can be applied by jaw muscles. "The sharpness of conodont teeth allowed them to overcome the limitations of their small size.
Since pressure is simply force applied divided by area, to increase pressure you must either increase force or shrink the area. Conodont evolution took the latter route, allowing them to apply enough pressure to break up their food," Dr Evans said in a varsity release.
The findings have been published in the 'Proceedings of the Royal Society B' journal.