Slight alterationsthe deletion of only six base pairs in DNA of the AHR2 geneappear to protect tomcod from PCBs, according to the study. Normally, when unaltered AHR2 binds to PCBs, it triggers a cascade of reactions that transmit the toxic effects of the compound. However, the study found that PCBs bind poorly to the variant AHRs, which apparently blunts the chemicals' effects.
Tomcod from cleaner waters occasionally carried mutant AHR2, suggesting that these variants existed in minor proportions prior to PCB pollution, says Dr. Wirgin. After the chemical was released, tomcod carrying the mutation had an advantage over others in the population because PCBs otherwise lead to lethal heart defects in young fish. The study's findings suggest that this advantage drove genetic changes in these fish over some fifty years. "We think of evolution as something that happens over thousands of generations," says Dr. Wirgin. "But here it happened remarkably quickly."
|Contact: Lorinda Klein|
NYU Langone Medical Center / New York University School of Medicine