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53 Genes Help Reef Fish Respond to Warmer Oceans

Scientists at James Cook University have found 53 genes that enable some reef fish species to adjust to higher water temperatures over a few generations of exposure.

“We found that shifts in energy production are key to maintaining performance at high temperatures,” says Dr Heather Veilleux. “Immune and stress responses also helped fish cope with warmer water.”

The project involved rearing coral reef fish at different temperatures for several generations in purpose-built facilities.“We then used state-of-the-art genetic methods to examine gene function in the fish,” says Dr Tim Ravasi from the King Abdullah University of Science and Technology in Saudi Arabia.

“By matching gene expression to metabolic performance of the fish we were able to identify which genes make acclimation to higher temperatures possible,” adds Prof Philip Munday from the JCU.

The study is the first to reveal the molecular processes that may help coral reef fishes and other marine species adjust to warmer conditions in the future.

“Understanding which genes are involved in transgenerational acclimation, and how their expression is regulated, will improve our understanding of adaptive responses to rapid environmental change and help identify which species are most at risk from climate change and which species are more tolerant,” Veilleux says.