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The scientific description of the term jaw underlies the opposable structure which is articulated at the entrance of the mouth. The jaw has two basic functions that are considered important in life of a vertebrate (Arthur 2010, p. 121). The feeding and the speech/sound functions are the two basic uses prescribed in this case. For example, in order to produce sound (Ashwell 2013, p. 21), the lower jaw and the upper jaw opens up and the space created in the mouth allows for production of sound (Arthur 2010, p. 121). The feeding aspect is facilitated by teeth which are held either in the lower or upper jaw of a vertebrate. The word vertebrate describes a group of animals with anatomical features like existence of backbone and unitary jaws consisting of different mouthparts. In this category, we find various categories of animals like fish, birds, amphibians, reptiles and mammals. The process of jaw formation is discussed under various subjects which include evolution process, evo-devo and gene transcription. With much concentration on the stages of mammalian development, the three theories remain important while discussing jaw development with very small deviations in characteristics.

At cellular and molecular levels, the cartilaginous binding followed evolutionary processes and the developmental changes concerning the mandibular arch and vertebrates’ pharyngeal arch led to the forms of jaws we currently observe among different groups of vertebrates (Feldhamer 2007, p. 101). On the other hand, a shift from agnathan form to gnathostome state is proposed by the classical theorists to have been the initial stage in the development of vertebrates jaw bones. The classical theory of jaw deformation and formation at the stage of pre-mandibular arches gives a transitional description of the jaws of vertebrates as a result of exposure to various environments and changes in feeding habits (Feldhamer 2007, p. 102). In other words, vertebrates adopt various feeding habits and the jaws must adapt to such changes. In relation, the jaws either widen or harden to accommodate the hard food substances (Arthur 2010, p. 124). The relationship between the ranges of animal classes predicts a deviation in feeding characteristics that can only be examined through the characteristics and arrangement of teeth within their respective jaws. This study is therefore based on jaw evolution as an effective method of feeding.    

How did the vertebrate jaw develop through modification of pre-existing structures?

Just as mentioned, jaw protrusions are important components of vertebrate feeding mechanisms and have received much attention in the description of their evolution process. Scholars have based their arguments on muscle activities in elasmobranches during capturing of a prey to explain the functional modifications and anatomy changes that occurred in vertebrate jaws from pre-existing structures (Arthur 2010, p. 125). The evolution of feeding habit among vertebrates was accompanied by two structural modifications that included changes in pre-existing motor patterns to one unmodified kinematic jaw profile as found in original preorbitalis and their descendants. The second modification followed significant deformation processes in motor patterns producing corresponding changes in patterns of jaw movements.

Still under functional morphology, we observe modification of musculoskeletal system of a vertebrate as the common characteristic in kinematic patterns. As far as evolutionary changes are concerned under these processes, the selected kinematic patterns seemed to have taken various pathways that resulted into anatomical alterations within individual vertebrate jaw structures. Such included changes in activation patterns within skeletal operated systems and particular changes within the skeletal systems of different vertebrates.

Specific examples revolve around the study of the head of a bony fish and salamanders. From the investigations conducted, the differences in feeding habits between salamanders and bony fish could have resulted from structural modifications of the musculoskeletal. Similarly, people have argued on the basis of sequential and differences in motor activities that are phylogeneticaly conserved in each fish category. This argument is merged with the response given on motor patterns among other species (Çabej 2012, p. 25). The validity of reasons lies within the intensity of chewing and the timing of muscular movements which differs slightly from one animal species to another showing that the differences might have resulted from slight changes in eating behaviors which is the major component as far as behavioral evolution is concerned. On the same note, while reviewing the evolutionary feeding characteristics of Chondrichthyes, the jaw musculature seemed to have undergone both physical subdivisions and structural alterations to accommodate the feeding relations of the vertebrates in this category.

Other than the mentioned characteristics, we seem familiar with the dynamisms in feeding behaviors of a shark (Hall, Hallgrímsson & Strickberger 2008, p. 73). A shark is recognized by its unique feeding characteristic than is particular to biting and manipulation, gouging of its upper jaw while capturing a large pray, retaining a versatile and hydrodynamic mouth throughout, reorientation of the teeth for proper grasping of the pray, simulation and closure of the two jaws at relatively higher speed than observed in other fish groups or sea animals. Even though the feeding habits differ among fish, other fish groups that exhibit similar characteristics of suction include nurse shark, spiny dogfish, leopard sharks and whales (mammalian fish). This would mean that this group of sea animals must have had profound similar feeding habit at certain time in history of their jaw evolution (Arthur 2010, p. 121). 

What changes in gene expression and developmental pathways were necessary?

Development of vertebrate jaws is thought to have followed specific stages in gene transcription. The most common genes mentioned in this case include Dlx1-Dlx2, Dlx5-Dlx6 as well as Dlx3-Dlx7. The only gene that is uncommon among other vertebrates in Dlx4 which is only found in mouse. The basic argument under this case is that Dlx genes initiate migrations of interneurons and links subpallium with pallium in all vertebrates (Çabej 2012, p. 29). In the jaws development, growth hormones change in characteristic leading to formation genes such as Dlx4 and Dlx6 which are important for the development of vertebrate jaws. 

Using the case of mammalian jaw for example, the gene expression follows a pattern of nested expression in the branchial arch and also for the respective phenotypes. In case Dlx1 and Dlx2 is deformed, the upper jaw gets a defect while Dlx5 and Dlx6 at that point through homeotic transcription will transform the lower jaw into upper jaw. The gene coding process allows for regionalization in which case Dlx1 and Dlx2 regulates the processes that will lead to formation of upper jaw while Dlx5 and Dlx6 determines the fate of lower jaw.          

What does the field of evo-devo tell us?

Evolutionary biology and developmental biology are two distinct terms used to describe the evolutionary process of animals. Under developmental biology, we focus on how organisms transform from a single cell through embryological stage to birth. On the other hand, the evolutionary biology describes changes in certain mechanisms that influence development in organisms (Hall, Hallgrímsson & Strickberger 2008, p. 77). Under the concept of evo-devo, we realize that all organisms must have developed from a common ancestor, most probably a worm like cell that developed, disintegrated and formed various organisms we have today. This aspect of reasoning probably classifies mice and elephants together or flies and human being in the same ancestry. From this description, the jaws of vertebrates must have developed from same genes that led to formation of other body organs. We therefor expect that the jaws of vertebrates must have developed from similar genes and at one particular point due to environmental changes (Çabej 2012, p. 29), vertebrates started adapting in their new environments by developing new feeding habits. The changes in feeding behavior led to evolution of jaws making every vertebrate to retain a peculiar jaw bone characteristics.

In general, the process of jaw formation in vertebrates is thought variedly. To some scholars, the entire process followed evolutionary stages and one can compare the jaw of one animal to another as long as the two different classes are vertebrates (Hall, Hallgrímsson & Strickberger 2008, p. 78). To some extent, this argument lacks basis and may not provide the most appropriate platform for argument. The deeper understanding of jaw formation could have followed the various stages of evo-devo profile. The development mechanism and the evolutionary processes could have led to diverse characteristic as observed in jaws of different vertebrates. 





Arthur, W. (2010). Evolution: A Developmental Approach. Chichester: John Wiley & Sons.

Ashwell, K. W. S. (2013). Neurobiology of monotremes: Brain evolution in our distant mammalian cousins.

Çabej, N. (2012). Epigenetic principles of evolution. London: Elsevier.

Feldhamer, G. A. (2007). Mammalogy: Adaptation, diversity, ecology. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.

Hall, B. K., Hallgrímsson, B., & Strickberger, M. W. (2008). Strickberger’s evolution: The integration of genes, organisms and populations. Sudbury, Mass: Jones and Bartlett.

Uhthoff, H. K. (1980). Current concepts of internal fixation of fractures. Berlin [West] [u.a.: Springer.




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