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Pollution-Tolerant Fish

December 13, 2016

The Atlantic killifish has evolved the ability to survive in toxic waters.


Andrew Whitehead UC Davis

(Andrew Whitehead/UC, Davis)


A pollution-proof minnow. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Scientists have discovered populations of a little fish called the Atlantic killifish thriving in waters with five thousand times the levels of pollutants needed to kill one of their cousins living in a clean environment. In the journal Science, UC, Davis environmental toxicologist Andrew Whitehead and his colleagues report that it’s thanks to the fish’s incredible genetic diversity.  

ANDREW WHITEHEAD (University of California, Davis):

What’s unusual about killifish for vertebrate animals is that they’ve got huge levels of genetic diversity – insect levels of genetic diversity – and that seems to have put the necessary cards in their hands to evolve very, very quickly.


He says the genetic pathways that the fish modify to withstand the chemical assault are present in other animals, including people. Learning how they work could help researchers understand how toxic chemicals cause disease and how to mitigate those effects. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.

Story by Bob Hirshon