Despite recent work to characterize gene expression changes associated with larval development in oysters, the mechanism by which the larval shell is first formed is still largely unknown. In Crassostrea gigas, this shell forms within the first 24 h post fertilization, and it has been demonstrated that changes in water chemistry can cause delays in shell formation, shell deformations and higher mortality rates. In this study, researchers use the delay in shell formation associated with exposure to CO2-acidified seawater to identify genes correlated with initial shell deposition.
By fitting linear models to gene expression data in ambient and low aragonite saturation treatments, we are able to isolate 37 annotated genes correlated with initial larval shell formation, which can be categorized into 1) ion transporters, 2) shell matrix proteins and 3) protease inhibitors. Clustering of the gene expression data into co-expression networks further supports the result of the linear models, and also implies an important role of dynein motor proteins as transporters of cellular components during the initial shell formation process.
Using an RNA-Seq approach with high temporal resolution allows us to identify a conceptual model for how oyster larval calcification is initiated. This work provides a foundation for further studies on how genetic variation in these identified genes could affect fitness of oyster populations subjected to future environmental changes, such as ocean acidification.