Acanthochromis polyacanthus Can Adapt To Warming Oceans

The common reef fish can change its gene structure after just a few generations.

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Acanthochromis can change its genes to adapt to warming oceans. Photo by J. Krajewski
John Virata

Scientists with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University in Australia, in collaboration with researchers at the  King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST) in Saudi Arabia looked at how the genes of reef fish, and in particular Acanthochromis polyacanthus changed over the course of several generations living in waters with higher temperatures than what they are accustomed to.

What the scientists found was the fish had 53 key genes that were involved in what they called long-term, multi-generational acclimation to higher temperatures. In essence, the genes in the fish that regulate metabolism, stress, and immunity adapt from one generation to another to changes in temperature. The scientists raised the reef fish at varying temperatures for several generations and then examined the gene function in the fish using state-of-the-art genetic techniques. They found that shifts in energy production helped the fish to survive at the higher temperatures

“By matching gene expression to metabolic performance of the fish we were able to identify which genes make acclimation to higher temperatures possible,” Professor Philip Munday from the Coral CoE said in a statement.

The researchers say that understanding what genes are involved in helping the fish adapt to change in water temperatures and how those gene expressions are regulated will help scientists better understand what fish can adapt to rapid environmental changes and what fish are most at risk to the changes.

An abstract to the paper can be found at the Nature Climate Change website.

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Fish · Lifestyle