Baby reef fish inheriting tolerance to warming oceans

Our climate is changing rapidly, and human activity is causing this change to happen even faster. We know that it is already having a devastating impact on animal populations. But there is hope for some species who have shown an incredible tolerance to the transforming environment and are adjusting to the warmer climes at a genetic level. Researchers with the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) and the King Abdullah University of Science & Technology (KAUST), have found evidence that reef fish are inheriting genes that help them adjust to the global warming of the oceans.

Senior author Prof Philip Munday of Coral CoE at James Cook University has reported in a press release: “When parents are exposed to an increase in water temperature, we found that their offspring improved their performance in these otherwise stressful conditions by selectively modifying their epigenome.”

This means that the baby reef fish are being born with chemical modifications in the DNA that have signalled for some genes to be switched on or off – a response that has likely occurred due to the change in temperature. The reported study shows that when parent reef fish were exposed to the same water temperatures that were elevated compared to their usual environment, their offspring would have a genetic variation that would make them better able to thrive in the warmer water.

“We reared spiny chromis damselfish, a common Indo-Pacific reef fish, for two generations under three different water temperatures, up to 3 degrees Celsius warmer than current-day ocean temperatures,” commented co-author Prof Timothy Ravasi of KAUST. “The offspring’s altered gene expression, also referred to as ‘acclimation,’ allowed them to maximise oxygen consumption and energy use.”

Their amazing abilitities mean that the species will be protected from the impacts of climate change.


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