Transcriptomics reveal transgenerational effects in purple sea urchin embryos: adult acclimation to upwelling conditions alters the response of their progeny to differential pCO2 levels

Understanding the mechanisms with which organisms can respond to a rapidly changing ocean is an important research priority in marine sciences, especially in the light of recent predictions regarding the pace of ocean change in the coming decades. Transgenerational effects, in which the experience of the parental generation can shape the phenotype of their offspring, may serve as such a mechanism. In this study, adult purple sea urchins, Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, were conditioned to regionally and ecologically relevant pCO2 levels and temperatures representative of upwelling (colder temperature and high pCO2) and nonupwelling (average temperature and low pCO2 ) conditions typical of coastal upwelling regions in the California Current System. Following 4.5 months of conditioning, adults were spawned and offspring were raised under either high or low pCO2 levels, to examine the role of maternal effects. Using RNA‐seq and comparative transcriptomics, our results indicate that differential conditioning of the adults had an effect on the gene expression patterns of the progeny during the gastrula stage of early development. For example, maternal conditioning under upwelling conditions intensified the transcriptomic response of the progeny when they were raised under high versus low pCO2 conditions. Additionally, mothers that experienced upwelling conditions produced larger progeny. The overall findings of this study are complex, but do suggest that transgenerational plasticity in situ could act as an important mechanism by which populations might keep pace with rapid environmental change.

Wong J. M., Johnson K. M., Kelly M. W. & Hofmann G. E., in press. Transcriptomics reveal transgenerational effects in purple sea urchin embryos: adult acclimation to upwelling conditions alters the response of their progeny to differential pCO2 levels. Molecular Ecology. Article (subscription required).

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