Evolution, as it is popularly conceived, is a snail’s-pace process in which each genetic tweak can take thousands of years. But a recent study from Prague’s Institute of Experimental Medicine has put that concept to the test. Scientists there found evidence that residents of the Czech city of Ostrava have built up a genetic resistance to the damaging effects of air pollution. Ostrava is one of Europe’s smoggiest urban centres, known for posting pollution levels four times higher than EU limits.
The study compared residents of Ostrava and Prague. Geneticist Pavel Rossner told the Telegraph that Ostrava residents had “higher expressions” of XRCC5, a gene that helps repair DNA that is damaged due to exposure to air pollution. “They are more able to repair the breaks in the DNA than people in Prague,” Rossner explained. That means, since the Industrial Revolution brought smokestacks and steel manufacturers to the area 150 years ago, people there have begun to adapt to their polluted environment. Their genes started to behave differently in a matter of decades, suggesting evolutionary developments don’t always move at a glacial pace.