Researchers in Spain are reporting deep new insights into how evolution changes the biochemistry of living things, helping them to adapt to new environments. Their study, based on an analysis of proteins produced by two populations of marine snails, reveals chemical differences that give one population a survival-of-the fittest edge for life in its cold, wave-exposed environment.
In the new study, Emilio Rolán-Alvarez and colleagues note that scientists long have known that animals of the same species can have different physical characteristics enabling them to survive in different habitats. One famous example is the different beak sizes and shapes that evolved in Darwin's finches, enabling the birds to live on different foods in different habitats on the Galapagos Islands. Until now, however, scientists knew little about the invisible biochemical changes behind such adaptations.
To help fill those gaps, the scientists studied two populations of marine snails that live only a few feet apart on the Spanish coast. One group lives on the lower shore, typically submerged in water and protected from large changes in temperature. The other group lives on the upper shore exposed to daily changes in temperature, humidity and other environmental conditions. Tests with mass spectrometry showed major differences in about 12 percent of the proteins in the snail, a subset of proteins that apparently enables the snails to survive in different environmental conditions.
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