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Pollution induces epigenetic effects that are stably transmitted across multiple generations


Harney, Ewan et al. (2022), Pollution induces epigenetic effects that are stably transmitted across multiple generations, Dryad, Dataset,


It has been hypothesised that the effects of pollutants on phenotypes can be passed to subsequent generations through epigenetic inheritance, affecting populations long after the removal of a pollutant. But there is still little evidence that pollutants can induce persistent epigenetic effects in animals. Here we show that low doses of commonly used pollutants induce genome-wide differences in cytosine methylation in the freshwater crustacean Daphnia pulex. Uniclonal populations were either continually exposed to pollutants or switched to clean water, and methylation was compared to control populations that did not experience pollutant exposure. While some direct changes to methylation were only present in the continually exposed populations, others were present in both the continually exposed and switched to clean water treatments, suggesting that these modifications had persisted for seven months (> 15 generations). We also identified modifications which were only present in the populations that had switched to clean water, indicating a long-term legacy of pollutant exposure distinct from the persistent effects. Pollutant-induced differential methylation tended to occur at sites that were highly methylated in controls. Modifications that were observed in both continually and switched treatments were highly methylated in controls and showed reduced methylation in the treatments. On the other hand, modifications found just in the switched treatment tended to have lower levels of methylation in the controls and showed increase methylation in the switched treatment. In a second experiment we confirmed that sub-lethal doses of the same pollutants generate effects on life-histories for at least three generations following the removal of the pollutant. Our results demonstrate that even low doses of pollutants can induce transgenerational epigenetic effects that are stably transmitted over many generations. Persistent effects are likely to influence phenotypic development, which could contribute to the rapid adaptation, or extinction, of populations confronted by anthropogenic stressors.


Please refer to the article "Pollution induces epigenetic effects that are stably transmitted across multiple generations" for information about methods.

Usage Notes

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NERC, Award: NE/I024437/1

Natural Environment Research Council, Award: NE/N016017/1