Halloween special: Heterotopy, pleiotropy, and the origins of vampires (free dissertation topic/movie plot-line)

In the spirit of Halloween, I’d like to propose a dissertation topic. Vampires are all the rage now, for a reason I just don’t understand. Seeing a popular portrayal of these monsters (an episode of HBO’s True Blood, see figure to the right), I noticed that the vampires’ fangs are in the position of their lateral incisors, not their canines. This is odd, since after all, in humans, hominins and most other primates, the canine teeth are the relatively sharp ones–what gives?

At first I thought it had to do with Hollywood logistics–putting the fangs in the canine position would be too far over for them to be easily visible normally. Putting them in the lateral incisor position, the fangs are now easily visible at all times. But wait! Could there be another, more complex answer?

What if, now stay with me on this, what if it turns out that this isn’t just Hollywood–what if this is an example of heterotopy (development of a feature in a novel location). That is, something about vampirism also causes the canine to develop in the the position of the lateral incisor. Could this be due to pleiotropy? That is, perhaps genes underlying vampirism are also involved in dental development, or vice versa. Could the pleiotropic effects of this heterotopic change in canine development result in vampiric symptoms like immortality, bloodlust, and garlic aversion? Or could selection for vampirism (bloodlust?) have the added (pleiotropic) effects of disdain for garlic and crucifixes, and a heterotopic shift in canine development?

So here’s a free dissertation topic: untangling the genetic architecture of vampirism. I’d do it, but I have other, actual things to work on. Incidentally, if anyone wants to use this idea for a book or movie, please ask first. I know you’re all beating down my door for this one.

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4 thoughts on “Halloween special: Heterotopy, pleiotropy, and the origins of vampires (free dissertation topic/movie plot-line)

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