Effects of seawater acidification on gene expression: resolving broader-scale trends in sea urchins

Posted on OA: 01 Aug 2014

 Sea urchins are ecologically and economically important calcifying organisms threatened by acidification of the global ocean caused by anthropogenic CO2 emissions. Propelled by the sequencing of the purple sea urchin (Strongylocentrotus purpuratus) genome, profiling changes in gene expression during exposure to high pCO2 seawater has emerged as a powerful and increasingly common method to infer the response of urchins to ocean change. However, analyses of gene expression are sensitive to experimental methodology, and comparisons between studies of genes regulated by ocean acidification are most often made in the context of major caveats. Here we perform meta-analyses as a means of minimizing experimental discrepancies and resolving broader-scale trends regarding the effects of ocean acidification on gene expression in urchins. Analyses across eight studies and four urchin species largely support prevailing hypotheses about the impact of ocean acidification on marine calcifiers. The predominant expression pattern involved the down-regulation of genes within energy-producing pathways, a clear indication of metabolic depression. Genes with functions in ion transport were significantly over-represented and are most plausibly contributing to intracellular pH regulation. Expression profiles provided extensive evidence for an impact on biomineralization, epitomized by the down-regulation of seven spicule matrix proteins. In contrast, expression profiles provided limited evidence for CO2-mediated developmental delay or induction of a cellular stress response. Congruence between studies of gene expression and the ocean acidification literature in general validates the accuracy of gene expression in predicting the consequences of ocean change and justifies its continued use in future studies.


Evans T. G. & Watson-Wynn P., 2014. Effects of seawater acidification on gene expression: resolving broader-scale trends in sea urchins. The Biological Bulletin 226 (3): 237-254. Article.