This Fish Has Evolved To Survive Highly Toxic Levels Of Pollution

Posted: Dec 11 2016, 12:42pm CST | by , Updated: Dec 11 2016, 9:04pm CST , in Latest Science News


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This Fish has Evolved to Survive Highly Toxic Levels of Pollution
Credit: UC Davis

Research has found that Atlantic killifish has adapted to lethal levels of toxic pollution due to its genetic diversity.

Animals are surprisingly resilient. Some species can adapt to environmental changes fast enough to avoid extinction and Atlantic killifish is one of them.

Minnow-like killifish lives in some of most polluted waters on Earth and has evolved to survive 8,000 times more toxic waste than a normal fish. Researchers have now figured out why this fish is surviving and thriving the lethal levels of water pollution. Atlantic killifish is responding well to environmental changes thanks to genetic mutation. The higher the level of genetic variation, the faster a species evolves.

Experts beleive this discovery holds clues for better understanding how toxic chemicals affect animals as well as humans.

“Some people will see this as a positive and think, 'Hey, species can evolve in response to what we're doing to the environment!” said lead author Andrew Whitehead from UC Davis Department of Environmental Toxicology. “Unfortunately, most species we care about preserving probably can't adapt to these rapid changes because they don't have the high levels of genetic variation that allow them to evolve quickly.”

Researchers sequenced the genomes of nearly 400 Atlantic killifish from both polluted and nonpolluted waters, including four highly toxic East Coast rivers. These waterways are contaminated with dangerous levels of dioxins, heavy metals, hydrocarbons and other industrial pollutants since 1950s.

Genetic analysis suggests that killifish’s genetic diversity is making them remarkably resilient and is contributing them to adapt such extreme levels of pollution that would otherwise kill them. Moreover Atlantic killifish is naturally carrying the genetic variation.

Having genetic adaptations in response to changes is crucial and it does not necessarily mean that other fish species will also evolve to survive polluted waters.

“This study shows that different populations of Atlantic killifish exposed to toxic pollution evolve tolerance to that pollution through changes in one molecular pathway,” said George Gilchrist, program director in the National Science Foundation's Division of Environmental Biology, which funded the study.

“The pathway may play a similar role in many animals exposed to pollutants, with slightly different adaptations in response to different toxins.”

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<a href="/latest_stories/all/all/47" rel="author">Hira Bashir</a>
The latest discoveries in science are the passion of Hira Bashir (). With years of experience, she is able to spot the most interesting new achievements of scientists around the world and cover them in easy to understand reporting.




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