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Mice in New York City are Evolving

Mice in New York City are Evolving

Written by Stephen Messenger

Maybe Charles Darwin didn’t have to sail all the way to the Galapagos islands after all.

While evolution is often thought of as playing out in the wilds of the natural world, as it turns out, urban environments are a major hotbed for species adaptations. Over centuries of development, cities have rewritten the rules of survival for the organisms that live there — and researcher is beginning to prove that some critters are just learning to cope, they’re actually undergoing genetic change.

Baruch College scientist Jason Munshi-South has spent the last several years studying this phenomena of urban evolution in New York City — particularly when it comes to the white-footed mouse.

A population of these small rodents has lived in the city’s few remaining forested areas, isolated from their countryside counterparts in more rural parts of the state. Munshi-South had a hunch that the naturally selecting factors for the city mice might have spurred genetic changes over time that made them distinct from the others. So, he collected DNA from both city and rural mice in hopes of spotting any differences:

Here’s a rundown on the findings, from the National Geographic:

They found a handful of genes in the city mice that appear to have evolved due to natural selection. The functions of these genes are, in many cases, exactly the sort that you’d expect to evolve in a city mouse. Some of them are known to be involved in recognizing pathogens, and others help launch an immune system attack against them. Others help to detoxify pollutants. These genes not only evolved relatively quickly–in just the past couple centuries at most–but also repeatedly. In park after park, the same adaptations were favored by natural selection.

There’s no doubt that life is resilient to change, but the rate of human urbanization can at times seem too rapid and too unnatural for other organisms to keep pace. But as Munshi-South’s proves that the urban jungle and the jungle jungle really aren’t so different in terms of evolution.

This post was originally published by TreeHugger.

 

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Photo: sharpshoota/flickr

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124 comments

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5:03AM PDT on Jun 16, 2013

thanks for sharing :)

7:13AM PDT on May 16, 2013

fascinating...

10:23PM PDT on May 13, 2013

theyare adapting.

6:20AM PDT on May 7, 2013

Weird but cool!! I just hope it doesn't create some sort of "mice flu" pandemic in years to come.

2:14AM PDT on May 6, 2013

interesting article,thank you for sharing

5:12PM PDT on May 5, 2013

Interesting. Everything in nature tends to evolve, including man.

10:54AM PDT on May 5, 2013

Mandy H.,

Great Post!

12:46AM PDT on May 5, 2013

I'm confused as to why this idea is so new to people.
"...urban environments are a major hotbed for species adaptations..." well of course! A city like the ones that we've got are part of evolution, look back at the Ancient Greek and Roman cities, the look at the Renaissance and their cities we're following a normal course of evolution and animals will follow just as they've done in the past.
An adaption isn't just a simple change in behavior to survive it goes right down to the biological factors. Animals will get to the point where they change colour or shed their fur sooner ect, that's how these things work.

5:47AM PDT on May 4, 2013

"While evolution is often thought of as playing out in the wilds of the natural world...."

No. Evolution is known to be happening in all life forms everywhere, all the time.

3:55AM PDT on May 4, 2013

Thank you.

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