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Course Information

Instructor Info:Alan Goodman
Office Extension x5372
TA Info:Kanchan Jha
Term: 2013F
Meeting Info: Tuesday Thursday
09:00 AM - 10:20 AM Cole Science Center 1-ECOL
09:00 AM - 10:20 AM Cole Science Center 1-ECOL

In this project-focused course we will research how teeth provide insights into health, nutrition, diet, and origins. Teeth develop in utero and during early life, and then are nearly inert. Because teeth grow somewhat like trees (teeth also have growth rings), one can use teeth as windows onto past lifetimes and geological times. We will learn how to read the record of nutrition and health from tooth size, shape and chemistry. Examples of hands-on projects include gender differences in prenatal nutrition among the Maya, lead pollution in contemporary Egypt and Mexico, and the geographic origin of enslaved Africans. This course is particularly recommended for students with interests in anthropology, archaeology, public health, and nutrition.

Course Objectives:

Teeth are storehouses of invaluable information for biological, physical, and medical sciences.  Human and animal teeth afford accurate monitoring with collection techniques that are benign, ethical, noninvasive, and painless.  Teeth can provide key to provenance, development, birth defects and disease impairment.  Routinely analyzed and monitored, teeth can indicate exposure to pollutants and provide permanent cumulative, quantitative, and qualitative record on insults. (Sharon, 1988: 124).

The study of disturbed dental development is a bit like reading a newspaper – It is the bad news that we find most fascinating. (Skinner and Goodman, 1992:153). 

Teeth are the prime objects of study in this course.  They are the means to answering a wide variety of questions about individuals, past and present.  Their development and biology is unique compared to other tissues in that all the dental tissues (cementum, dentine and especially enamel) grow like trees or even more precisely like artichokes.  Like tree rings, each “peelings” of enamel forms from a different time period in the life on the individual.  Can we read these enamel rings and learn their secrets?  Teeth provide a window into the physiology and environment of the organism they are (or were) a part of.  Teach fascinate me: I am amazed by the anthropological, archaeological, medical and health information that can be derived from teeth.

The research challenges are to learn how to unlock, read, and properly interpret this information. This course is designed to get us into the lab doing real research.  This experience should provide a grounded sense of what scientists actually do, why they do it, and how it gets done.  Working on two group projects (described below), and perhaps others, is the core and essence of this course. Throughout the semester we will continue to spend time in class to critically evaluating articles, learning methods, discussing progress on projects, and brainstorming about research problems. In addition, we will spend some time getting to know Hampshire’s educational system and pedagogical approach.

1st Class Project: Nutrition and Tooth Size and Asymmetry in Mexico

A fascinating study was conducted from the mid 1960s and ended just recently.  In the town of Tezonteopan, highland Mexico, Adolfo Chavez, Director of the National Institute of Nutrition in Mexico, and nutritionist Celia Martinez conducted a nutritional supplementation study to evaluate the impact of extra food on poor and mild-to-moderately malnourished (MMM) Mexican children.  At the time of their study very little was known about this type of malnutrition!.  Due to this famous study, we now know a lot more about the effects of (MMM) on child growth, disease, and behavior and even a bit about cognitive development. 

Working with Chavez and Martinez, I examined teeth and collected dental casts from the supplemented and non-supplemented children.  We can now evaluate whether the supplemental food also has an effect on the size of teeth and their asymmetry (differences from the left to the right).  Although supplemented children are taller and weigh more than their less well-nourished sibs, it is unclear if they will have larger teeth because teeth are thought to be more protected from malnutrition. 

An interesting phenomena is that when stress is high or nutrition is poor, the difference between left and right sides of the body, fluctuating asymmetry, often increases.  Faces may be more asymmetric and so too tooth sizes.  We can also test this out on the dental casts from Tezonteopan. 

2nd Class Project:  Nutritional Stress and Linear Enamel Hypoplasias (LEH).

The cast and my drawing of the teeth show the presence/absence and type of enamel developmental defect.  These are defects like LEH that are formed at specific times during early development and signal that the body was under stress.  I published a paper on these data in 1991, but the method used to evaluate the time of defect formation has changed since then.  I hope to use the drawings and apply a new developmental standard, compare it to the old one and reassess the peak periods of stress in both the supplemented and non-supplemented children, and perhaps also the girls and boys. For the second project students will learn how to time an enamel defect and then can make a number of statistical comparisons.   

Evaluation Criteria:

Participation.  In order to get an evaluation for this course you will need to have excellent class attendance, be a ready contributor to class discussions, be an active participant in the laboratory, complete all writing assignment, and present your final project during an end of the semester symposium. 

Readings.  The main purposes of the readings are to help you to understand 

(a) The amazing biology, development and causes of variation in teeth and their tissues and how teeth reflect what happens during their development

(b) Via teeth, to engage with and critically evaluate primary research articles. 

(c) As a tutorial, to come to better understand engaged learning and Hampshire. 

(d) You will have to read just a moderate amount for this course, between 10-25 pages in common per class.  Instructions will be provided on how to read science papers.  Finally, your will need to read additional articles related to your project.  

Writing, and Class Presentations.  Key goals of this course include learning how to critically read science and to write clearly.  In addition to some short (2 pages or less) writing assignments, the main writing assignments are (obviously?) writing drafts and a final report on the first and second project.  Everyone will give a slide (PowerPoint) presentation of their work in class at the end of the first and second project. 

You will also write shorter reviews of primary articles.  The focus on critical review of primary research will make for a paper that is likely to be different from any that you’ve previously written (or that you would write at another college!).  Aside from doing your own research, it is the best means for engaging with how science is done.  As well, it will help you to think about your research and how to present results clearly.

 A Note On Working in Groups.  Collaboration, that is, working in a group, is the norm in science.  It is productive, social and enjoyable to share ideas and opinions and to support each other in working through a project.  However, working with others is a commitment.  You need to make clear who is going to do what, by when, and to do it.   Finally, everyone will have the chance to write and present.  If the group does a final paper then everyone will write a substantial section.  Enjoy the interactive and social side of science. 


Additional Info:


  1. Integrity comes first.  Please read Hampshire's policy of plagarism and academic integrity.
  2. Due dates for assignments are firm. 
  3. Readings and Assignments must be completed before the listed class.
  4. Because research is unpredictable, the schedule may change.  We want to have flexibility so that we can explore unanticipated questions.  As needs arise I may add readings, mini-lectures, and short “how to” exercises.  
  5. Have fun and be engaged.  Let me know how you are doing!