Early developmental gene regulation in Strongylocentrotus purpuratus embryos in response to elevated CO2 seawater conditions

Ocean acidification, or the increased uptake of CO2 by the ocean due to elevated atmospheric CO2 concentrations, may variably impact marine early life history stages, as they may be especially susceptible to changes in ocean chemistry. Investigating the regulatory mechanisms of early development in an environmental context, or ecological development, will contribute to increased understanding of potential organismal responses to such rapid, large-scale environmental changes. We examined transcript-level responses to elevated seawater CO2 during gastrulation and the initiation of spiculogenesis, two crucial developmental processes in the purple sea urchin, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus. Embryos were reared at the current, accepted oceanic CO2 concentration of 380 microatmospheres (μatm), and at the elevated levels of 1000 and 1350 μatm, simulating predictions for oceans and upwelling regions, respectively. The seven genes of interest comprised a subset of pathways in the primary mesenchyme cell gene regulatory network (PMC GRN) shown to be necessary for the regulation and execution of gastrulation and spiculogenesis. Of the seven genes, qPCR analysis indicated that elevated CO2 concentrations only had a significant but subtle effect on two genes, one important for early embryo patterning, Wnt8, and the other an integral component in spiculogenesis and biomineralization, SM30b. Protein levels of another spicule matrix component, SM50, demonstrated significant variable responses to elevated CO2. These data link the regulation of crucial early developmental processes with the environment that these embryos would be developing within, situating the study of organismal responses to ocean acidification in a developmental context.

Hammond L. M. & Hofmann G. E., 2012. Early developmental gene regulation in Strongylocentrotus purpuratus embryos in response to elevated CO2 seawater conditions. Journal of Experimental Biology 215: 2445-2454. Article (subscription required).

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