Extensive study shows urbanization drives adaptive evolution

Extensive study shows urbanization drives adaptive evolution

The Rochester Institute of Technology has contributed to a large-scale study of roadside weeds showing that urbanization leads to adaptive evolution on a global scale. Dans le cadre du projet Global Urban Evolution Project (GLUE), des scientifiques de 160 villes sur six continents ont collecté plus de 110 000 échantillons de plants de trèfle blanc dans les zones urbaines, suburbaines et rurales pour étudier les urban effets de l the plants. This is the largest study ever of environmental change and the results are published in the journal Science.

Scientists in each city used the same process to collect samples of white clover and test them for a specific herb’s defense chemical compound that also affects stress tolerance to factors such as extreme heat and weather. Associate Professor Caitlin Stack Whitney of the Department of Science, Technology and Society at MIT led a team of five environmental science students working on a large engagement graduation project on behalf of Rochester. In October 2018, they collected 650 samples from 41 sites along a straight path from downtown Rochester to Black Creek Park in northern Chile along New York State Route 33A.

“We’ve been picking at these little weeds on the side of the road, but it’s fascinating how you can solve these global problems of urbanization and climate change by looking at this very neglected plant,” Stack Whitney said. “There are these big global forces that influence how these plants grow, what they do, and whether or not they are able to respond to pressures in this very local environment.”

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The GLUE project provided an opportunity for RIT students to conduct practical and impactful research early in their careers. Environmental Science graduate Christina Shumyak, 19, 21 MSc, who will begin pursuing her Ph.D. Speaking at Sustainability in the fall, she said the collaborative experience had fueled her interest in the research.

“For me, at the time, personally, I didn’t have a lot of research experience,” Shumyak said. “It was exciting to be able to follow a protocol and do this research in a wet lab. It would have been better if it was published and it was meaningful to the scientific community.”

Shumyak said she was excited to see the full results of the study and to see how the data collected in Rochester compares with that in other cities. Locally, she said, the team didn’t find much difference in adaptation between urban and rural areas, but they hypothesize that this is because Rochester has more snow than others. The cities involved in the study, which means that white clover plants are less offensive here.

Participants in the first GLUE study, led by the University of Toronto in Mississauga, are currently discussing additional ways to exploit the data and organize follow-up studies. Stack Whitney plans to participate in at least five follow-up studies.

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Materials offered by Rochester Institute of Technology. Original by Luke Auburn. Note: Content can be modified according to style and length.

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