To study human evolution, researchers sometimes use microstructures found in human teeth and their knowledge of the processes by which those structures grow. Human fetusus begin to develop teeth in utero. As teeth grow, they form a hard outer substance, called enamel, through a process called amelogenesis. During amelogenesis, incremental layers of enamel form in a Circadian rhythm. This rhythmic deposition leaves the enamel with microstructures, called cross-striations and striae of Retzius, which have a regular periodicity. Because enamel is not renewed throughout life like other tissues, teeth preserve the timing and details of a person's growth and development. Thus, enamel microstructures, from living people and from fossilized teeth, can be used to reconstruct the growth, development, and life histories of current and past humans. Researchers can also compare current and fossilized microstructures to trace changes in those traits over the course of human evolution.

Between February 1969 and August 1970 Edward Kollar and Grace Baird, from the University of Chicago in Chicago, Illinois, published three papers that established the role of the mesenchyme in tooth induction. Drawing upon a history of using tissue interactions to understand differentiation, Kollar and Baird designed their experiments to understand how differentiated structures become specified. Their work overturned a widely accepted model that epithelium controls the identity of the structure, a phenomenon called structural specificity. Interactions between epithelium and mesenchyme control the development and differentiation of many parts during embryonic development, including structures like the gastrointestinal tract and hair. Thus, the realization that mesenchyme drives induction and differentiation during epithelio-mesenchymal interactions had far-reaching effects.

Tooth enamel contains relics of its formation process, in the form of microstructures, which indicate the incremental way in which it forms. These microstructures, called cross-striations and striae of Retzius, develop as enamel-forming cells called ameloblasts, whcih cyclically deposit enamel on developing teeth in accordance with two different biological clocks. Cross-striations result from a twenty-four hour cycle, called a Circadian rhythm, in the enamel deposition process, while striae of Retzius have a longer periodicity. Unlike other tissues, enamel does not remodel after it forms, leaving those microstructures intact after deposition. Cross-striations and striae of Retzius thus provide evidence of the timing and processes of tooth development, and they indicate how organisms in a lineage differently grow and develop across generations. Researchers have examined those microstructures to investigate human evolution.

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