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Integr Comp Biol. 2012 Nov;52(5):681-94. doi: 10.1093/icb/ics087. Epub 2012 May 28.

Proteomics to assess the role of phenotypic plasticity in aquatic organisms exposed to pollution and global warming.

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  • 1Research Unit in Environmental and Evolutionary Biology (URBE), University of Namur (FUNDP), Rue de Bruxelles 61, B-5000, Namur, Belgium.


Nowadays, the unprecedented rates of anthropogenic changes in ecosystems suggest that organisms have to migrate to new distributional ranges or to adapt commensurately quickly to new conditions to avoid becoming extinct. Pollution and global warming are two of the most important threats aquatic organisms will have to face in the near future. If genetic changes in a population in response to natural selection are extensively studied, the role of acclimation through phenotypic plasticity (the property of a given genotype to produce different phenotypes in response to particular environmental conditions) in a species to deal with new environmental conditions remains largely unknown. Proteomics is the extensive study of the protein complement of a genome. It is dynamic and depends on the specific tissue, developmental stage, and environmental conditions. As the final product of gene expression, it is subjected to several regulatory steps from gene transcription to the functional protein. Consequently, there is a discrepancy between the abundance of mRNA and the abundance of the corresponding protein. Moreover, proteomics is closer to physiology and gives a more functional knowledge of the regulation of gene expression than does transcriptomics. The study of protein-expression profiles, however, gives a better portrayal of the cellular phenotype and is considered as a key link between the genotype and the organismal phenotype. Under new environmental conditions, we can observe a shift of the protein-expression pattern defining a new cellular phenotype that can possibly improve the fitness of the organism. It is now necessary to define a proteomic norm of reaction for organisms acclimating to environmental stressors. Its link to fitness will give new insights into how organisms can evolve in a changing environment. The proteomic literature bearing on chronic exposure to pollutants and on acclimation to heat stress in aquatic organisms, as well as potential application of proteomics in evolutionary issues, are outlined. While the transcriptome responses are commonly investigated, proteomics approaches now need to be intensified, with the new perspective of integrating the cellular phenotype with the organismal phenotype and with the mechanisms of the regulation of gene expression, such as epigenetics.

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