By investigating evolutionary adaptations that change physiological functions, we can enhance our understanding of how organisms work, the importance of physiological traits, and the genes that influence these traits. This approach of investigating the evolution of physiological adaptation has been used with the teleost fish Fundulus heteroclitus and has produced insights into (i) how protein polymorphisms enhance swimming and development; (ii) the role of equilibrium enzymes in modulating metabolic flux; (iii) how variation in DNA sequences and mRNA expression patterns mitigate changes in temperature, pollution, and salinity; and (iv) the importance of nuclear-mitochondrial genome interactions for energy metabolism. Fundulus heteroclitus provides so many examples of adaptive evolution because their local population sizes are large, they have significant standing genetic variation, and they experience large ranges of environmental conditions that enhance the likelihood that adaptive evolution will occur. Thus, F. heteroclitus research takes advantage of evolutionary changes associated with exposure to diverse environments, both across the North American Atlantic coast and within local habitats, to contrast neutral versus adaptive divergence. Based on evolutionary analyses contrasting neutral and adaptive evolution in F. heteroclitus populations, we conclude that adaptive evolution can occur readily and rapidly, at least in part because it depends on large amounts of standing genetic variation among many genes that can alter physiological traits. These observations of polygenic adaptation enhance our understanding of how evolution and physiological adaptation progresses, thus informing both biological and medical scientists about genotype-phenotype relationships.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Physiology (medical)