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Dental Roundup

January 6, 2006

A dental researcher seems to have honed in on the real use of the narwhal’s mysterious tusk.


New frontiers in dentistry. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

The narwhal is a small arctic whale with a mysterious eight-foot tusk resembling the horn of a unicorn. Now Harvard dental researcher Martin Nweeia has found that unlike most teeth, the narwhal tusk has many millions of sensitve nerve endings. It can detect changes in water temperature, pressure and even salinity. This may help the whales move toward ice-free water in the winter.

In 1812, Napoleon and a half million French soldiers invaded Russia. After less than a year, all but a few thousand had died. Now, scientists from the University of the Mediterranean in Marseilles, France have studied tooth pulp from the soldiers, and found traces of DNA from typhus and trench fever bacteria. They’re two deadly pathogens carried by lice that presumably led to many of the deaths.

I’m Bob Hirshon for AAAS, the science society.