Allegheny professor studies evolution of shark teeth
Lisa Whitenack would thumb through the wildlife guide from Readers’ Digest in fascination as a child visiting her grandmother’s house.
The guide is hers now, the pages on sharks especially well-loved and dog-eared.
“I was that kid that never outgrew dinosaurs,” said Whitenack, a shark paleobiologist and assistant professor of biology at Allegheny College. “I’ve always been into fossils and dinosaurs and rocks and nature, and I also read a lot about sharks.”
A childhood fascination grew into a career that has Whitenack studying the evolution of shark teeth over more than 300 million years.
Whitenack is visiting museums, trying to measure the shapes of fossilized shark teeth — teeth that look much different from the triangular-shaped teeth we associate with modern sharks. Some of the teeth she is studying have multiple cusps. Some have cusps that are round and cross-sectioned, not flat like those of big, modern sharks.
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