A new study reveals how warmer global climates could create more serious mutations that have worse effects on organisms, affecting their prospects for survival in the future.

Researchers from the Uppsala University in Sweden illustrate the effect of warming global climates on mutations and their detrimental effects on protein function. As the natural environment is transformed at an increasingly faster rate, this effect on mutation could dictate organisms' ability to survive in the future's changing habitats. Details of their study appear in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B - Biological Sciences.

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Organisms in the Face of Global Warming: Adaptation or Extinction

"In the long run, organisms will have to adapt genetically to these rapid environmental changes: otherwise, they might die out," says David Berger from the Department of Ecology and Genetics from Uppsala University. He explains that the adaptation could be triggered by mutations that force the genome to change and provide an advantage to the organisms with respect to the new environment.

"But very often mutations have negative consequences for the individual that carries them," Berger notes.

In the new study, which includes researchers from Lund University, also in Sweden, they used theoretical models that describe protein function, which was then combined with experimental results that compared mutation effects on various host organisms from different habitats. For example, researchers observed beetles with new mutations but also reviewed data from previous studies that examined unicellular microorganisms - such as yeasts, viruses, bacteria - and multicellular life forms like the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster), thale cress (Arabidopsis thaliana), and roundworm (Caenorhabditis elegans).

Through all these data, researchers managed to identify how these various organisms responded to their environments before and after introducing mutations. However, the main objective of the researchers is to observe the impact of environmental conditions - whether the surroundings imposed stress on the organisms and led the mutations to either become more or less detrimental to their host. To further highlight this aim, researchers varied the temperature and observed the effects on the organisms.

Highlighting the Effect of Environment on Mutations

"Individuals with and without mutations suffered just as much from the stressful environment. But when we looked at the studies where temperatures had been manipulated, we found that, with higher temperatures, the effects in individuals carrying new mutations were worse than in those that lacked them," Berger explains.

Referring to the Intergovernmental Panel's calculations on Climate Change (IPCC), the study notes that the projected 2 - 4 degrees Celsius in the average temperatures for the next 100 years could lead to doubling the mutations' harmful effects for tropical species.

"Since mutations are inherited and also arise in every new generation, a marked increase in their damaging effects would have major implications both for organisms' adaptability and for the types of adaptations we can expect to see in them if global temperatures keep rising," Berger adds. "Our results may therefore be important for understanding how future global warming may affect biodiversity."

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