Scientists have identified a gene that grows tooth enamel and could be the missing link needed to grow teeth in labs—perhaps rendering fillings and dentures obsolete, the BBC reports. Researchers had already figured out how to grow the insides of animal teeth, but not enamel, which can’t grow back naturally. Tests in mice lacking the key gene led to the discovery.
The Ctip2 gene is essential in the growth and function of cells that produce enamel, Oregon scientists found. Using knowledge of the gene alongside stem-cell research could either help create teeth or strengthen and repair enamel in the fight against tooth decay. “A lot of work would still be needed to bring this to human applications, but it should work,” said the head researcher.