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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 1997 Feb 18;94(4):1258-63.

Solar UVB-induced DNA damage and photoenzymatic DNA repair in antarctic zooplankton.

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  • 1Department of Biology, Northeastern University, Boston, MA 02115, USA.


The detrimental effects of elevated intensities of mid-UV radiation (UVB), a result of stratospheric ozone depletion during the austral spring, on the primary producers of the Antarctic marine ecosystem have been well documented. Here we report that natural populations of Antarctic zooplankton also sustain significant DNA damage [measured as cyclobutane pyrimidine dimers (CPDs)] during periods of increased UVB flux. This is the first direct evidence that increased solar UVB may result in damage to marine organisms other than primary producers in Antarctica. The extent of DNA damage in pelagic icefish eggs correlated with daily incident UVB irradiance, reflecting the difference between acquisition and repair of CPDs. Patterns of DNA damage in fish larvae did not correlate with daily UVB flux, possibly due to different depth distributions and/or different capacities for DNA repair. Clearance of CPDs by Antarctic fish and krill was mediated primarily by the photoenzymatic repair system. Although repair rates were large for all species evaluated, they were apparently inadequate to prevent the transient accumulation of substantial CPD burdens. The capacity for DNA repair in Antarctic organisms was highest in those species whose early life history stages occupy the water column during periods of ozone depletion (austral spring) and lowest in fish species whose eggs and larvae are abundant during winter. Although the potential reduction in fitness of Antarctic zooplankton resulting from DNA damage is unknown, we suggest that increased solar UV may reduce recruitment and adversely affect trophic transfer of productivity by affecting heterotrophic species as well as primary producers.

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