Change in environment can lead to rapid evolution, researchers say

FSU researcher: Change in environment can lead to rapid evolution
Kimberly Hughes is a professor of Biological Science at Florida State University. Credit: Ray Stanyard/Florida State University

A new Florida State University study is giving researchers a glimpse at how organisms from fish to flowers to tumors evolve in response to rapid environmental change.

The findings could have a broad ripple effect on a number of research areas, including and cancer treatment. And it's all because of guppies.

FSU Professor of Biological Science Kimberly Hughes and a team of researchers set out to find how this tiny would evolve if they transplanted wild Trinidadian guppy fish from a stream with predatory fish into two-predator-free streams. Because guppies reproduce multiple times in a year, they were able to track three to four generations of the fish living in a predator-free zone.

The findings, published today in the academic journal Nature, were staggering.

By sequencing genetic material in the guppies' brains, researchers found that 135 genes evolved in response to the new environment. Most of the changes in the gene expression were internal and dealt with a fish's biological processes such as metabolism, immune function and development.

But more importantly, the immediate response of genes to change in the environment did not reflect the eventual evolutionary change.

Genes can change their activity levels in an immediate response to the environment—what evolutionary biologists call plasticity—or in an evolutionary response that occurs over many generations.

What Hughes and her colleagues found was that the evolutionary change in gene activity was usually opposite in direction to the immediate plasticity of . A gene that had changed in response to drastic change in the environment would then evolve in the opposite direction after a few generations.

"Some evolutionary theory suggests that plastic and evolutionary changes should be in the same direction," Hughes said. "But our results indicate that at least in the very early stages of evolution, genes that respond in the 'wrong' way to an environmental shift are those that will evolve most quickly."

Guppies are viewed as an ideal subject for evolution research because one year represents several generations for guppies. So, rapid are often visible in a short period of time.

That makes these results interesting to scientists and raises big questions about how other organisms evolve in response to environmental changes.

For example, tumors face an when confronted with chemotherapy or radiation. Plants and animals face environmental changes with rising global temperatures. How do they change to live in these new realities or do they ultimately not survive?

"We know that organisms respond to changes in their environment at a very fast rate," Hughes said. "They can acclimate. That includes organisms that are pathogens of humans and also includes things like tumors that adapt or acclimate to, say, chemotherapy. We can measure these fast changes in pathogens and tumors. We can measure that plasticity just the same way we did in the brains of . And then we might be able to predict how the pathogen or tumor will respond to treatment over longer time periods. This could help medical researchers and doctors predict and avoid development of drug resistance in viruses, bacteria and tumors."

Explore further

An evolutionary heads-up—the brain size advantage

More information: Nature, DOI: 10.1038/nature15256
Journal information: Nature

Citation: Change in environment can lead to rapid evolution, researchers say (2015, September 2) retrieved 17 August 2019 from
This document is subject to copyright. Apart from any fair dealing for the purpose of private study or research, no part may be reproduced without the written permission. The content is provided for information purposes only.

Feedback to editors

User comments

Sep 02, 2015
I'm glad that researchers are now able to track changes in gene expression for a given organism.
However, in this article the author went overboard with the use of the words "evolve" and "evolution" simply to imply that this is now the confirmation of Darwinian evolution at work.

All that has happened is that some genes were switched on and other turned off. I'd be very surprised if the guppies actually developed completely new genes and fitted them into their genome so that they then exhibit the making of a completely new creature.

As it stands the guppies remain guppies with their genome firmly intact but the methylation at the epi-genetic level ie. the chromosomal level has gone into overdrive.

Sep 02, 2015
This is just epigenetic adaptation. There is no Darwinian evolution going on.

Sep 03, 2015
Journal article excerpt: "... few studies have been able to capture the initial patterns of plasticity and subsequent adaptive divergence of traits in natural populations."

All experimental evidence links physics and chemistry via molecular epigenetics. Viral microRNAs link entropic elasticity to genomic entropy. Nutrient-dependent microRNAs link RNA-mediated DNA repair to healthy longevity via RNA-mediated amino acid substitutions that stabilize organized genomes.

http://www.ncbi.n...3960065/ Excerpt: "Animal models are often used to model human physical and mental disorders. The honeybee already serves as a model organism for studying human immunity, disease resistance, allergic reaction, circadian rhythms, antibiotic resistance, the development of the brain and behavior, mental health, longevity, diseases of the X chromosome, learning and memory, as well as conditioned responses to sensory stimuli (Kohl, 2012)."

Sep 03, 2015
Can anything that pseudoscientists claim occurs in the context of evolution occur outside the context of what is known to serious scientists about G protein-coupled receptors?

Sep 03, 2015
@FredJose, @ichisan,

Changes occur in all parts of a given organism - skin, muscle, brain, gills, fins etc. Every child is slightly different from its parent and when these differences help the child survive, they are slightly more likely to survive and breed (or breed more).

So let's say that if:

- Every child is on average say 0.02% different from the parent.
- 1% of these mutations help it survive better than its peers (its survivability being amplified by other siblings having one of the potentially negative among 99% other mutations).
- This translate into the child (now parent) breeding 1% more than its peers.
- 99.92% of the parent's genes are passed to its (now next generation) children.
- These children go back to point 1.

What is the accumulated % of change between a guppy and its 100,000th generation descendant? That's a simple math question.

To challenge evolution you must show that biology forbids certain small changes in children. You can't.

Sep 04, 2015
While not getting the totality of implications in this study, yet, I like where it appears to be heading...
And please stop attaching Darwin to everything that uses the word evolution. He wasn't the last word on evolutionary process, just one of the first...
And that, too, evolves...

Sep 04, 2015
How does anything "evolve" outside the context of Darwin's "conditions of life?"

To challenge evolution you must show that biology forbids certain small changes in children. You can't.

There is no reason to challenge any ridiculous theory that starts with "NATURAL SELECTION" of anything outside the context of nutrient-dependent RNA-mediated life.

"The second law of thermodynamics is the first law of psychology: evolutionary developmental psychology and the theory of tandem, coordinated inheritances: comment on Lickliter and Honeycutt (2003)" http://www.ncbi.n...14599284 link opens pdf http://www.cep.uc...iter.pdf

Sep 04, 2015
This comment has been removed by a moderator.

Sep 04, 2015
Not evolution but rapid adaptation and expression of certain genes thanks to the embedded mechanisms for recombination of genetic information in the gene pools of all living organisms.

Sep 04, 2015
This is just epigenetic adaptation. There is no Darwinian evolution going on.

And, has been observed in humans who have survived stressful situations.

Sep 04, 2015
I asked
Can anything that pseudoscientists claim occurs in the context of evolution occur outside the context of what is known to serious scientists about G protein-coupled receptors?

The answer is NO. Pseudoscientists claim that natural selection is linked to evolution, but Darwin claimed that 'conditions of life' must come first. 'Conditions of life' are nutrient-dependent and receptor-mediated and cell type differentiation is RNA-mediated in the context of the physiology of reproduction.

See: Here you will find information that links physics, chemistry, and molecular epigenetics via RNA-mediated events such as the de novo creation of olfactory receptor genes in order to encourage a public discussion of a paradigm shift.

Olfactory receptors are G protein-coupled receptors. They do not create themselves, but they link the epigenetic landscape to the physical landscape of DNA in the the organized genomes of all living genera.

Sep 05, 2015
@JVK - Why are the "pseudoscientists" being published, while YOU are hanging out on the comment section?

Sep 05, 2015
Because anyone that knows him can only have a good laugh. On another article a commentor just suggested that the reason most people like him in Georgia that reject evolution do so is because they can't accept that they're biologically the same as the negroid "species", to use their verbiage. That shit ain't gonna make it much further than the idiot neighbor over the fence and PO.

Couldn't the study results be an artifact? i.e. with a lot of change in the environment, the only species that will exist after a return to normalcy are the ones that have changed a lot. It doesn't cause rapid evolution; those that don't evolve rapidly aren't represented because they're extinct. Look at the climate debate issue. Those embracing the most change will likely fare the best, but there's no sense in which the rapidly changing environment is having any effect at all on the chronic mossbacks and bone-deep entrenched interests. Hurry up and be extinct, already!

Sep 05, 2015
@JVK - Why are the "pseudoscientists" being published, while YOU are hanging out on the comment section?

I've published a series of articles that included two award-winning reviews (2001) and (2006/7) -- after book publication and after publication of the first review of RNA-mediated events and molecular epigenetics. See: From Fertilization to Adult Sexual Behavior http://www.hawaii...ion.html

The sequencing of the octopus genome linked our claims from marine invertebrates to crustaceans, insects, and all vertebrates via the conserved molecular mechanisms we detailed in 1996.

See also: Role of olfaction in Octopus vulgaris reproduction http://www.scienc...14004006 Excerpt: "...olfactory organ could exert regulatory action on the OL via epigenetic effects of nutrients and pheromones on gene expression (Kohl, 2013; Elekonich and Robinson, 2000)."

Sep 05, 2015

"... the act of creation that gives rise to a human being is accomplished with remarkable parsimony."

The act of virus-perturbed creation is accomplished with remarkable parsimony. Viruses are linked to all pathology via nutrient-dependent thermodynamic cycles of protein biosynthesis and degradation in species from microbes to humans. The accumulation of viral microRNAs eventually leads to pathology when nutrient-dependent microRNAs can no longer lead to RNA-mediated DNA repair.

See also: Viral proteins may regulate human embryonic development

Sep 06, 2015

Same comment on two threads minutes apart with your unsupported claim :
" Viruses are linked to all pathology ".

I'm surprised you didn't link to one of your favorite biblical creationists blogs.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more