Molecular mechanisms underlying responses of the Antarctic coral Malacobelemnon daytoni to ocean acidification


  • Gene expression profiles of the sea pen Malacobelemnon daytoni revealed an important number of transcripts upregulated in response to short-term and long-term Low pH conditions.
  • The biomineralization in this coral is not acclimated after two months in the Low pH condition, indicating that the pennatulid would be striving to produce its calcium carbonate structure.
  • Malacobelemnon daytoni is working extra hard at the molecular level to maintain the same enzyme activity levels.


Benthic organisms of the Southern Ocean are particularly vulnerable to ocean acidification (OA), as they inhabit cold waters where calcite-aragonite saturation states are naturally low. OA most strongly affects animals with calcium carbonate skeletons or shells, such as corals and mollusks. We exposed the abundant cold-water coral Malacobelemnon daytoni from an Antarctic fjord to low pH seawater (LpH) (7.68 ± 0.17) to test its physiological responses to OA, at the level of gene expression (RT-PCR) and enzyme activity. Corals were exposed in short- (3 days) and long-term (54 days) experiments to two pCO2 conditions (ambient and elevated pCO2 equaling RCP 8.5, IPCC 2019, approximately 372.53 and 956.78 μatm, respectively).

Of the eleven genes studied through RT-PCR, six were significantly upregulated compared with control in the short-term in the LpH condition, including the antioxidant enzyme superoxide dismutase (SOD), Heat Shock Protein 70 (HSP70), Toll-like receptor (TLR), galaxin and ferritin. After long-term exposure to low pH conditions, RT-PCR analysis showed seven genes were upregulated. These include the mannose-binding C-Lectin and HSP90. Also, the expression of TLR and galaxin, among others, continued to be upregulated after long-term exposure to low pH. Expression of carbonic anhydrase (CA), a key enzyme involved in calcification, was also significantly upregulated after long-term exposure. Our results indicated that, after two months, M. daytoni is not acclimatized to this experimental LpH condition. Gene expression profiles revealed molecular impacts that were not evident at the enzyme activity level. Consequently, understanding the molecular mechanisms behind the physiological processes in the response of a coral to LpH is critical to understanding the ability of polar species to cope with future environmental changes. Approaches integrating molecular tools into Antarctic ecological and/or conservation research make an essential contribution given the current ongoing OA processes.

Servetto N., de Aranzamendi M. C., Bettencourt R., Held C., Abele D., Movilla J., González G., Bustos D. M. & Sahade R., 2021. Molecular mechanisms underlying responses of the Antarctic coral Malacobelemnon daytoni to ocean acidification. Marine Environmental Research: 105430. doi: 10.1016/j.marenvres.2021.105430. Article (subscription required).

1 Response to “Molecular mechanisms underlying responses of the Antarctic coral Malacobelemnon daytoni to ocean acidification”

  1. 1 bearnews 28 July 2021 at 05:42

    How interesting, one of the best I’ve read.

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