Is Rapid Adaptation to New Environments Fueled by Old Mutations? A Case Study of Copper Tolerance on Mimulus guttatus

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Rapid adaptation and tolerance is a phenomenon experienced by a variety of organisms typically because of new and harsh environments. Mimulus guttatus, a plant commonly seen on the west coast of the United States, is a prime example as it has rapidly evolved to soil contamination by copper due to mining in California in the last 150 years. There have been two hypotheses posed by researchers as to the genetic basis of how organisms have evolved so quickly which I set out to study: 1) There is a low frequency of tolerant genotypes in the ancestral population otherwise known as standing variation or 2) new mutations occurred once exposed to a new environment. In the past, researchers found it difficult to distinguish between the two because they lacked the technology we have today for DNA analysis. I used four different populations of M. guttatus from varying locations in order to address which hypothesis was valid. I conducted both survival assays of these populations and DNA analysis of known tolerant and non-tolerant lines using a copper oxidase gene. I found that there was at least some degree of tolerance in all populations in the survival assays, supporting the hypothesis of standing variation. I also found patterns within DNA analysis suggesting the copper oxidase gene would be useful for further study to verify the standing variation hypothesis. The results from this experiment helps in understanding rapid evolution not just in the context of soil contamination by metals but also ties back to why an alarming number of species are not able to adapt to our constantly changing world.






Williams, Annalese (2016). Is Rapid Adaptation to New Environments Fueled by Old Mutations? A Case Study of Copper Tolerance on Mimulus guttatus. Honors thesis, Duke University. Retrieved from

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