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Trends Ecol Evol. 1996 Apr;11(4):168-73.

How organisms respond to environmental changes: from phenotypes to molecules (and vice versa).

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Massimo Pigliucci is at the Depts of Botany and Ecology & Evolutionary Biology, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN 37996-1100, USA.


The ability of organisms to produce different phenotypes under different environmental conditions (phenotypic plasticity) has been an object of evolutionary and ecological studies since the neodarwinian synthesis. Yet, until lately, our knowledge in this field was limited to statistical approaches based on the classical tools of quantitative genetics. In recent years, however, a new dialog between organismal biologists and researchers interested in uncovering the mechanistic details of physiological and phenotypic responses has yielded several new insights. Some classic examples of phenotypic plasticity have now been traced to specific alterations in DNA transcription and RNA translation rates, and to changes in patterns of protein expression. Conversely, the explicit use of evolutionary and ecological theory is helping us to put a panoply of molecular data into a coherent historical and organismal perspective.

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