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Sci Rep. 2017 Mar 14;7:44180. doi: 10.1038/srep44180.

Transcriptome analysis of a wild bird reveals physiological responses to the urban environment.

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Department of Biology, Lund University, SE-223 62 Lund, Sweden.


Identifying the molecular basis of environmentally induced phenotypic variation presents exciting opportunities for furthering our understanding of how ecological processes and the environment can shape the phenotype. Urban and rural environments present free-living organisms with different challenges and opportunities, which have marked consequences for the phenotype, yet little is known about responses at the molecular level. We characterised transcriptomes from an urban and a rural population of great tits Parus major, demonstrating striking differences in gene expression profiles in both blood and liver tissues. Differentially expressed genes had functions related to immune and inflammatory responses, detoxification, protection against oxidative stress, lipid metabolism, and regulation of gene expression. Many genes linked to stress responses were expressed at higher levels in the urban birds, in accordance with our prediction that urban animals are exposed to greater environmental stress. This is one of the first studies to reveal transcriptional differences between urban- and rural-dwelling animals and suggests an important role for epigenetics in mediating environmentally induced physiological variation. The study provides valuable resources for developing further in-depth studies of the mechanisms driving phenotypic variation in the urban context at larger spatial and temporal scales.

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