Transcriptomic response of sea urchin larvae Strongylocentrotus purpuratus to CO2-driven seawater acidification

Ocean acidification from the uptake of anthropogenic CO2 is expected to have deleterious consequences for many calcifying marine animals. Forecasting the vulnerability of these marine organisms to climate change is linked to an understanding of whether species possess the physiological capacity to compensate for the potentially adverse effects of ocean acidification. We carried out a microarray-based transcriptomic analysis of the physiological response of larvae of a calcifying marine invertebrate, the purple sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, to CO2-driven seawater acidification. In lab-based cultures, larvae were raised under conditions approximating current ocean pH conditions (pH 8.01) and at projected, more acidic pH conditions (pH 7.96 and 7.88) in seawater aerated with CO2 gas. Targeting expression of ~1000 genes involved in several biological processes, this study captured changes in gene expression patterns that characterize the transcriptomic response to CO2-driven seawater acidification of developing sea urchin larvae. In response to both elevated CO2 scenarios, larvae underwent broad scale decreases in gene expression in four major cellular processes: biomineralization, cellular stress response, metabolism and apoptosis. This study underscores that physiological processes beyond calcification are impacted greatly, suggesting that overall physiological capacity and not just a singular focus on biomineralization processes is essential for forecasting the impact of future CO2 conditions on marine organisms. Conducted on targeted and vulnerable species, genomics-based studies, such as the one highlighted here, have the potential to identify potential `weak links’ in physiological function that may ultimately determine an organism’s capacity to tolerate future ocean conditions.

Todgham, A. E., Hofmann, G. E., 2009. Transcriptomic response of sea urchin larvae Strongylocentrotus purpuratus to CO2-driven seawater acidification. Journal of Experimental Biology 212(16): 2579-2594. Article (subscription required).

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