Response of key stress-related genes of the seagrass Posidonia oceanica in the vicinity of submarine volcanic vents

Submarine volcanic vents are being used as natural laboratories to assess the effects of CO2 on marine organisms and communities, as this gas is the main component of emissions. Seagrasses should positively react to increased dissolved carbon, but in vicinity of volcanic vents there may be toxic substances, that can have indirect effects on seagrasses. Here we analysed the expression of 35 stress-related genes in the Mediterranean keystone seagrass species P. oceanica in the vicinity of submerged volcanic vents located in the Islands of Ischia and Panarea, Italy, and compared them with those from control sites away from the influence of vents. Reverse Transcription-Quantitative Polymerase Chain Reaction (RT-qPCR) was used to characterize the expression levels of genes.

Fifty one per cent of genes analysed showed significant expression changes. Metal detoxification genes were mostly down-regulated in relation to controls both in Ischia and Panarea locations, indicating that P. oceanica does not increase the synthesis of heavy metal detoxification proteins in response to the environmental conditions present at the two vents. The expression levels of genes involved in free radical detoxification indicate that, in contrast with Ischia, P. oceanica at the Panarea vent face stressors that result in the production of reactive oxygen species triggering antioxidant responses. In addition, heat shock proteins were also activated at Panarea and not at Ischia.

Overall, our study reveals that P. oceanica is generally under higher stress in the vicinity of the vents at Panarea than at Ischia, possibly resulting from environmental and evolutionary differences existing between the two volcanic sites. This is the first study analysing gene responses in marine plants living near natural CO2 vents and our results call for a careful consideration of factors, other than CO2 and acidification, that can cause stress to seagrasses and other organisms near volcanic vents.

Lauritano C., Ruocco M., Dattolo E., Buia M. C., Silva J., Santos R., Olivé I., Costa M. M. & Procaccini G., 2015. Response of key stress-related genes of the seagrass Posidonia oceanica in the vicinity of submarine volcanic vents. Biogeosciences Discussions 12:4947-4971. Article.

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