The effect of experimental lead pollution on DNA methylation in a wild bird population

Hannu Mäkinen* (Corresponding author), Kees van Oers, Tapio Eeva, Suvi Ruuskanen

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journal/periodicalArticleScientificpeer-review

8 Citations (Scopus)
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Anthropogenic pollution is known to negatively influence an organism’s physiology, behaviour, and fitness. Epigenetic regulation, such as DNA methylation, has been hypothesized as a potential mechanism to mediate such effects, yet studies in wild species are lacking. We first investigated the effects of early-life exposure to the heavy metal lead (Pb) on DNA methylation levels in a wild population of great tits (Parus major), by experimentally exposing nestlings to Pb at environmentally relevant levels. Secondly, we compared nestling DNA methylation from a population exposed to long-term heavy metal pollution (close to a copper smelter), where birds suffer from pollution-related decrease in food quality, and a control population. For both comparisons, the analysis of about one million CpGs covering most of the annotated genes revealed that pollution-related changes in DNA methylation were not genome wide, but enriched for genes underlying developmental processes. However, the results were not consistent when using binomial or beta binomial regression highlighting the difficulty of modelling variance in CpGs. Our study indicates that post-natal anthropogenic heavy metal exposure can affect methylation levels of development related genes in a wild bird population.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)625-641
Issue number6
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • ecological epigenetics
  • ecotoxicology
  • environmental epigenetics
  • parus major
  • Pb
  • pollution
  • international
  • Plan_S-Compliant_NO


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