Phenotypic plasticity as a long-term memory easing readaptations to ancestral environments

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Science Advances  22 May 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 21, eaba3388
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba3388


Phenotypic plasticity refers to environment-induced phenotypic changes without mutation and is present in all organisms. The role of phenotypic plasticity in organismal adaptations to novel environments has attracted much attention, but its role in readaptations to ancestral environments is understudied. To address this question, we use the reciprocal transplant approach to investigate the multitissue transcriptomes of chickens adapted to the Tibetan Plateau and adjacent lowland. While many genetic transcriptomic changes had occurred in the forward adaptation to the highland, plastic changes largely transform the transcriptomes to the preferred state when Tibetan chickens are brought back to the lowland. The same trend holds for egg hatchability, a key component of the chicken fitness. These findings, along with highly similar patterns in comparable experiments of guppies and Escherichia coli, demonstrate that organisms generally “remember” their ancestral environments via phenotypic plasticity and reveal a mechanism by which past experience affects future evolution.

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