Compound odontoma is a benign tumor most commonly found in mammals and even humans. However, scientists were able to identify the affection in a 255-year-old gorgonopsian fossil. The painful condition manifests itself as small lumps in the patient’s gums. Also, it can only be treated with surgical intervention.
A team of researchers at the University of Washington has written a paper on the discovery and consequently published the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association Oncology. The most interesting part is the fact that the odontoma has been thought to be a rather young affliction. Before the researchers confirmed having discovered the tumor inside the gorgonopsian fossil’s jaw, the scientific community though that the condition was mainly restricted to the ice age.
“This is, by far, the oldest known instance of a compound odontoma”, says a professor of biology at the University of Michigan and the senior author of the study, Christian Sidor.
The fossil first came to Mr. Sidor in 2007 from the Ruhuhu Valley in Tanzania. However, at the time, Professor Sidor was unaware of the secrets the fossilized jaw was hiding. It was not until later that Megan Whitney, a biology graduate student and also the lead author of the study, conducted an investigation on the teeth structure revealing the tumor.
Judy Skog is the program director of the Earth Sciences’ National Science Foundation Division. When asked to comment on the discovery, she said that this was the earliest occurrence of the compound odontoma recorded so far. Up until recently, the oldest sample of compound odontoma was discovered only in 1-million-year-old mammal fossils.
The gorgonopsian belongs to the synapsids category. Also, it was one of the top predators in ancient times. The individuals possessed a mixture of mammal features intertwined with reptilian traits. Furthermore, they are the mammals’ ancestors, according to the scientists. According to the lead author of the study, Ms. Whitney, the majority of synapsids have become extinct. Across the years, the researchers have discovered other tumors in many fossils belonging to dinosaurs. Prior to Ms. Whitney’s finding, the earliest case of a tumor discovered in a fossil went only as far back as the Ice Age.
Image Source: Wikipedia