Plasticity and Evolution

Emily holding a net while standing on a thigh deep water level lake

With the many destructive consequences brought on by climate change, it’s a wonder many biological species have not gone extinct with the rapidly changing environment. Biology Ph.D. student and Royster Society Fellow Emily Harmon believes this is thanks to an evolutionary capability many of these species have called plasticity. Since 2019, Emily has been researching the concept of plasticity beginning with spadefoot tadpoles and continuing with rotifers, both of which are aquatic creatures. Emily believes that understanding these creatures is the key to understanding plasticity.

Through her research, Emily has traveled to the Southwest region of the U.S., including Arizona and New Mexico. Following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, she had to travel back to Chapel Hill where she continued her research by traveling to several lakes and ponds near the area.
With her research, Emily hopes to determine if transgenerational plasticity can help a species survive our ever-evolving environment and live through generations.

“It might even be possible to pre-expose species to stressful environments so that they can develop a plastic response that could be passed down across generations,” Emily said.

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