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Professor Mark Hodson unearths worm evolution

An earthworm

Professor Mark Hodson, from the Department of Soil Science, has been involved in a new study looking at how earthworms have adapted to cope with increasing amounts of contamination in their natural habitat.

The study compared the way two populations of earthworms, one of which was taken from disused lead and zinc mines in Wales, dealt with high levels of toxic metals in the soil.

The researchers found distinct differences in the abilities of the two populations to deal with the contamination. Not only did the worms native to the mine sites accumulate more metal in their tissues, but they were able to convert a much higher proportion into an insoluble form which is no longer toxic.

This showed that the worms from the mine sites had adapted over time to enable them to continue living in contaminated soil. Professor Hodson said, "This is a great example of evolution in action."

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