Epigenetics and global warming

Climate adaptation may be a family affair
Newborn reef fish can cope with changed water conditions if their parents have already adjusted

That this effect has been observed experimentally isn’t shocking or even unexpected to me. If life were as vulnerable as people often seem to think we (the ‘royal’ ‘we’ referring to advanced life on Earth) wouldn’t have survived all the adverse events that have happened over geologic time. Many years ago (heck, probably a decade now) when I learned that many plants have large numbers of (apparently) redundant gene copies I immediately thought that those genes could evolve to be optimized for slightly different conditions as a way to increase fitness. Those plants that had genes optimized for, say, hot vs cold conditions would be able to thrive over wider temperature ranges than those that lack them. Given that plants are basically stuck with their lot in life once the seed has germinated (not that they have much influence over where they germinate, but at least they are mobile), it seems to me that such mutations would be quite beneficial, thus highly likely to be common.

Epigenetics are clearly of vastly more importance than plain old genome data and it makes a whole lot of sense to me that babies that are born in ‘adverse’ environments would take on epigenetic changes to favor the new environment (‘adverse’, btw, is always relative, so one man’s adverse is another man’s perfect; just compare people native to the Gulf coast with their counterparts in Canada. To think we are all the same species is sometimes challenging). I strongly suspect that the corals will also adapt equally as well, just slower. On a slightly related note, there are species that do very well as adults under conditions that are problematic (or lethal) to children. For instance, the Paw paw tree as a seedling does very poorly in full sun, but as an adult is vastly more likely to produce fruit in the full sun (Paw paws are native to much of the East, but not on the coast, and the one time I had a chance to eat one in the wild I didn’t know enough about it to trust eating it and have been looking for them for decades since then (I have planted three in my orchard and am hoping for the best)).

So, the world will adapt in a Gaia like fashion, though naturally humans might not like the adaptation that happens. Besides, how the heck does one define ‘appropriate’ or ‘ideal’ in ecology? Who knows? It may be that we can have even higher diversity with even greater robust-ness with a few degrees increase in temps.

Author: Tfoui

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