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PLoS One. 2013;8(3):e58652. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0058652. Epub 2013 Mar 27.

Genes related to ion-transport and energy production are upregulated in response to CO2-driven pH decrease in corals: new insights from transcriptome analysis.

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Centre Scientifique de Monaco, Monaco, Monaco.


Since the preindustrial era, the average surface ocean pH has declined by 0.1 pH units and is predicted to decline by an additional 0.3 units by the year 2100. Although subtle, this decreasing pH has profound effects on the seawater saturation state of carbonate minerals and is thus predicted to impact on calcifying organisms. Among these are the scleractinian corals, which are the main builders of tropical coral reefs. Several recent studies have evaluated the physiological impact of low pH, particularly in relation to coral growth and calcification. However, very few studies have focused on the impact of low pH at the global molecular level. In this context we investigated global transcriptomic modifications in a scleractinian coral (Pocillopora damicornis) exposed to pH 7.4 compared to pH 8.1 during a 3-week period. The RNAseq approach shows that 16% of our transcriptome was affected by the treatment with 6% of upregulations and 10% of downregulations. A more detailed analysis suggests that the downregulations are less coordinated than the upregulations and allowed the identification of several biological functions of interest. In order to better understand the links between these functions and the pH, transcript abundance of 48 candidate genes was quantified by q-RT-PCR (corals exposed at pH 7.2 and 7.8 for 3 weeks). The combined results of these two approaches suggest that pH≥7.4 induces an upregulation of genes coding for proteins involved in calcium and carbonate transport, conversion of CO2 into HCO3(-) and organic matrix that may sustain calcification. Concomitantly, genes coding for heterotrophic and autotrophic related proteins are upregulated. This can reflect that low pH may increase the coral energy requirements, leading to an increase of energetic metabolism with the mobilization of energy reserves. In addition, the uncoordinated downregulations measured can reflect a general trade-off mechanism that may enable energy reallocation.

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