Molecular adaptation of molluscan biomineralisation to high-CO2 oceans – the known and the unknown


• Shell proteins and ion transporters are two important machineries involved in molluscan biomineralisation.

• Energy budgeting plays a key role in adaptation to OA.

• Omega myth theory and proton flux limitation theory on ocean acidification.

• Understanding epigenetic changes in response to environmental stressors is required.

• There is only limited understanding of molluscan carbon uptake mechanisms.


High-CO2 induced ocean acidification (OA) reduces the calcium carbonate (CaCO3) saturation level (Ω) and the pH of oceans. Consequently, OA is causing a serious threat to several ecologically and economically important biomineralising molluscs. Biomineralisation is a highly controlled biochemical process by which molluscs deposit their calcareous structures. In this process, shell matrix proteins aid the nucleation, growth and assemblage of the CaCO3 crystals in the shell. These molluscan shell proteins (MSPs) are, ultimately, responsible for determination of the diverse shell microstructures and mechanical strength. Recent studies have attempted to integrate gene and protein expression data of MSPs with shell structure and mechanical properties. These advances made in understanding the molecular mechanism of biomineralisation suggest that molluscs either succumb or adapt to OA stress. In this review, we discuss the fate of biomineralisation process in future high-CO2 oceans and its ultimate impact on the mineralised shell’s structure and mechanical properties from the perspectives of limited substrate availability theory, proton flux limitation model and the omega myth theory.

Furthermore, studying the interplay of energy availability and differential gene expression is an essential first step towards understanding adaptation of molluscan biomineralisation to OA, because if there is a need to change gene expression under stressors, any living system would require more energy than usual. To conclude, we have listed, four important future research directions for molecular adaptation of molluscan biomineralisation in high-CO2 oceans: 1) Including an energy budgeting factor while understanding differential gene expression of MSPs and ion transporters under OA. 2) Unraveling the genetic or epigenetic changes related to biomineralisation under stressors to help solving a bigger picture about future evolution of molluscs, and 3) Understanding Post Translational Modifications of MSPs with and without stressors. 4) Understanding carbon uptake mechanisms across taxa with and without OA to clarify the OA theories on Ω.

Kanmani C. R. & Thiyagarajan V., in press. Molecular adaptation of molluscan biomineralisation to high-CO2 oceans – the known and the unknown. Marine Environmental Research. Article (subscription required).

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