Clemson marine biologist seeks genetic pearls in oyster DNA

CLEMSON — The drab shell of an oyster is complex and the animal that lives inside can adapt to stressful living conditions, according to a team of marine biologists, including a Clemson University researcher, that identified and catalogued the genes of the Pacific oyster. Their research is published in the journal Nature this week.

The Pacific oyster is the first mollusk to have its genome decoded, sequenced and analyzed. What the researchers discovered is an animal with a robust ability to deal with its changing environment and a remarkable protective shell. The research will have an impact on the eastern oyster, as well, which is the focus of study at Clemson University.

Mount’s work on shell formation has led him to see the mollusk’s cell as a way of gauging the threat of ocean acidification.

“The oceanographic geochemistry community has become alarmed over the past several years over increasing levels of ocean acidification,” caused when the sea absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, he said.

“As the pH level drops, there is concern that marine calcifying organisms such as oysters and corals could be negatively impacted. Now that we have a better understanding of how these organisms actually calcify at an intracellular level, science is better equipped to investigate the threat that ocean acidification poses to the future of the world’s food security.”

Clemson University, 19 September 2012. Press release.

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