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Evolution to the Rescue!

Evolution has allowed life on Earth to survive catastrophic climate changes, sudden isolation, inter-species conflicts, and more. Speaker Jing-Ke Weng studies how complex metabolic traits evolve in a Darwinian fashion to allow today’s flora and fauna to survive our changing planet.

Jing-Ke Weng delivers a talk on evolution

For instance, how do animals deal with increasing human byproducts? Pollution is an inevitable consequence of industrial development. Smog, contaminated water, ocean trash heaps, and other collections of human waste pose a danger to the environment and the creatures living in it.

However, just as animals have evolved to survive changing land features, climates, and predators in previous eras, some of today’s animals are evolving to adapt to environmental hazards!

The most famous example is the peppered moth, which changed colors to allow it to hide on smoke-stained trees. Recently, in New Jersey, the Atlantic Killfish joined the list of adaptable survivors. In the polluted waters of the Lower Passaic River, where toxic leftovers from the manufacture of chemicals like DDT and Agent Orange oozed into the water, the killfish thrives.

The surviving fish are able to turn off the trigger for damage to adults’ survival and embryonic development, allowing them not only to live but to reproduce, maintaining a population in water that has killed off other species.

Jing-Ke and his lab study not only how these evolutions allow organisms to survive, but how they interact with each other; ecosystems are mutually dependent systems, and each organism relies on others for its survival. How will this adaption by the killfish affect the other plants and animals in its habitat? Watch his talk to learn more about this exciting study.