Evolution in Overtime: The Atlantic Killifish’s Amazing Feat

There is little doubt of the fact that environmental changes all over the world have been outpacing the rate of evolution and adaptation of many species. This has led to the extreme decline in certain numbers—something that has been the cause of alarm for most scientists throughout the years. In a more positive end to the spectrum, experts from The University of California have found that the Atlantic Killifish has undergone quite a change.

The Killifish have been known to be quite tough, even managing to survive a few weeks outside of water. A sample size from four polluted East Coast estuaries was studied and researchers found out quite the incredible feat. The Atlantic Killifish has adapted to the levels of highly toxic industrial pollutants that would have normally killed them off. They were found to be 8,000 times more resistant to the level of pollution than other fish sampled in the area.

Killifish aren’t commercially valuable but serve as an importance food source for other species in the area—the makings of a good environmental indicator of the health of the area (at least that what it was supposed to be). Researchers were surprised to find that despite the extreme toxicity levels, the Killifish were doing extremely well. A closer study of the fishes and their genetic markers yielded the data which showed that the Killifish is genetically diverse.

Their genetic diversity is actually higher than any other vertebrate species measured, which is something that can account for their speedy evolutionary capabilities. Sadly, not even Humans posses those high levels of genetic variation which is why our evolution has spanned over several millennia and is something that slowly continues to this day. Weeds and insects also share the Killifish’s high levels of genetic variation which accounts for their ability to hastily adapt and evolve their resistance to pesticides.

The researchers of the Killifish study mapped out the genomes of nearly 400 Atlantic Killifish samples from extremely polluted and non-polluted sections at several places like Newark Bay, New Jersey; New Bedford Harbor in Massachusetts; Connecticut’s Bridgeport area and Virginia’s Elizabeth River. These sites have been polluted since the 50s due to the dumping of industrial pollutants which include dioxins, hydrocarbons, and several others.

These findings lay down the foundation for future research into the exploration of genes that showcase a stronger tolerance of specific chemicals. This can help further explain how certain genetic differences among humans and other species can contribute to differences in the sensitivity and reaction to environmental chemicals.

This new information taken from the Killifish study shows that while some show the genetic capability for faster evolution, this is not indicative that a majority of species can follow suit. If anything, it should serve as a warning that should the environmental makeup of our world continue on its path of rapid change, we, and several other species of plant and animal life, may not be able to keep up. It should follow that more studies of this nature should be done to fully understand which ones cannot stay alive without our intervention. This will help clarify where more studies should be done to pinpoint our efforts effectively.

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