Genes from parents can help reef fish tolerate higher temperatures

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Genes from parents can help reef fish tolerate higher temperatures

May 19, 2018 - 07:55
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Reef fish exposed to higher temperatures have been found to produce offspring that can better tolerate a warmer climate, according to researchers.

Juvenile spiny chromis damselfish.

In a recent study, reef fish exposed to higher temperatures for two generations have produced offspring that can tolerate warmer temperatures. These fish may be able to adjust to global warming at a genetic level due to the genetic tools passed on to them from their parents.

The findings of the study, conducted by researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence for Coral Reef Studies (Coral CoE) at James Cook University. and the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology (KAUST), was published in a recent issue of Nature Climate Change.

In the study, two generations of spiny chromis damselfish, a common Indo-Pacific reef fish, were reared under three different water temperatures, up to three degress Celsuis warmer than present ocean temperatures.

According to co-author Professor Timothy Ravasi from KAUST, “The next generation appeared to be advantaged by parental exposure to elevated temperatures. The offspring’s altered gene expression, also referred to as ‘acclimation,’ allowed them to maximise oxygen consumption and energy use.”

This selective modification of the fish's epigenome involves chemical modifications in the DNA that signals genes to be switched on or off and can be triggered by factors like disease, famine and heat stress.

“Acclimation may buffer populations against the impacts of rapid environmental change and provide time for genetic adaptation to catch up over the longer term,” said senior author Professor Philip Munday from Coral COE.

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