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Toothy tumor found in 255 million-year-old fossil

Gorgonopsid
Sketch of a gorgonopsian head, in side view. (CCA 3.0 / Dmitry Bogdanov via UW)

A weird type of benign tumor has been discovered in an unlikely place: the fossilized jaw of a distant ancestor of present-day mammals that lived 255 million years ago.

The tumor, known as a compound odontoma, is made up of miniature toothlike structures. It’s not unusual to find such tumors in mammals, including us humans. But it’s unprecedented to find them in the kind of orgonopsid studied by researchers from the University of Washington.

“We think this is by far the oldest known instance of a compound odontoma,” Christian Sidor, a UW professor of biology and curator of vertebrate paleontology at the Burke Museum of Natural History and Culture, said today in a news release.

Sidor is the senior author of a report on the find, published in today’s edition of the Journal of the American Medical Association Oncology. The research could have implications for cancer research as well as for paleontology.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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