CHARLOTTE, NC- Animals can adapt to their environment through changes to their DNA, but more recently, research has shown that non-genetic components may be important, too.
UNC Charlotte biological sciences professor Adam Reitzel is leading an international team to investigate how epigenetic regulations and microbial communities are influencing the adaptation of coastal marine species to climate change.
“Evidence is growing that climate change has profound effects on marine ecosystems, yet our understanding and ability to predict how species respond in these ecosystems is still very limited,” Reitzel stated.
Unlike the genes of an animal, epigenetics – the study of changes in organisms caused by modifications of “gene expression,” rather than alteration of the genetic code itself – and microbial composition can rapidly alter due to changes in the environment, making them ideal mechanisms to study how species respond to environmental threats like global warming.
The researchers hypothesize that changes in the microbial community improve the thermal tolerance of the host and that the epigenetic landscape is responding both to the shifts in temperature and to the altered microbial composition.
The research team also will explore how epigenetics, microbiomes and genomic mutations intersect, as they are largely studied in isolation at the moment.