Does Arsenic Contamination Affect DNA Methylation Patterns in a Wild Bird Population? An Experimental Approach

Veronika N. Laine, Mark Verschuuren, Kees van Oers, Silvia Espín, Pablo Sánchez-Virosta, Tapio Eeva, Suvi Ruuskanen* (Corresponding author)

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)
50 Downloads (Pure)


Pollutants, such as toxic metals, negatively influence organismal health and performance, even leading to population collapses. Studies in model organisms have shown that epigenetic marks, such as DNA methylation, can be modulated by various environmental factors, including pollutants, influencing gene expression, and various organismal traits. Yet experimental data on the effects of pollution on DNA methylation from wild animal populations are largely lacking. We here experimentally investigated for the first time the effects of early-life exposure to environmentally relevant levels of a key pollutant, arsenic (As), on genome-wide DNA methylation in a wild bird population. We experimentally exposed nestlings of great tits (Parus major) to arsenic during their postnatal developmental period (3 to 14 days post-hatching) and compared their erythrocyte DNA methylation levels to those of respective controls. In contrast to predictions, we found no overall hypomethylation in the arsenic group. We found evidence for loci to be differentially methylated between the treatment groups, but for five CpG sites only. Three of the sites were located in gene bodies of zinc finger and BTB domain containing 47 (ZBTB47), HIVEP zinc finger 3 (HIVEP3), and insulin-like growth factor 2 mRNA binding protein 1 (IGF2BP1). Further studies are needed to evaluate whether epigenetic dysregulation is a commonly observed phenomenon in polluted populations and what are the consequences for organism functioning and for population dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8947-8954
Number of pages8
JournalEnvironmental Science and Technology
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 06 Jul 2021


  • ecological epigenetics
  • ecotoxicology
  • environmental epigenetics
  • Parus major
  • pollution
  • international
  • Plan_S-Compliant-TA


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