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Genetic Evolution of Killifish allows them to sustain life in heavily toxic water

First Posted: Dec 12, 2016 09:20 AM EST
A mummichog, Fundulus heteroclitus, at the Virginia Aquarium.

Photo : Joel Sartore, National Geographic Photo Ark

While the rapid growth of human civilization making life harder for other species , another kind of species is surviving despite the odds. Fundulus Heteroclitus, which is commonly known as Atlantic Killifish, now amaze all scientists with its special ability to survive under heavily toxic water conditions.

A research team has found that Atlantic Killifish can withstand in 8,000 times toxic waterbodies which condition is impossible to live for any other vertebrates, including human. They have a higher level of genetic variation, which helps them to evolve faster than any other species.

"Some people will see this as a positive and think, 'Hey, species can evolve in response to what we're doing to the environment!' 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." Andrew Whitehead, lead author from UC Davis Department of Environmental Toxicology said in a statement.

Researchers collected roughly 400 species of Atlantic Killifish from both polluted & unpolluted water bodies to sequence their Genomes. These water bodies have been polluted since the 1950s with a heavy contamination of polychlorinated biphenyls(PCBs), heavy metals , dangerous levels of Dioxins, Hydrocarbons & other industrial toxic wastes.

This experiment was started in the late 90s. Scientists collected both samples of embryos( one from freshwater fishes ,other from contaminated water fishes) and kept in a polluted environment. The study suggests that those embryos which were from the nonpolluted water have deformed heart. Meanwhile, those species which was evolved to live under toxic waters condition had a lesser amount of heart deformation .

Although, Evolution is not a fast process. It takes so many years to change in the gene. But Genetic Diversity helps killifish to adopt certain changes of environment. In spite of having those advantages, Scientists are still concerned about an issue. Killifishes have no commercial uses except for aquarium business, but so many species eat killifishes to live life, those species must face health consequences of feasting on a food source that thrives in contaminated waters.

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