Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Will Antarctic worms warm to changing climate?

Date:
December 21, 2011
Source:
University of Delaware
Summary:
Researchers are examining tiny worms that inhabit the frigid sea off Antarctica to learn not only how these organisms adapt to the severe cold, but how they will survive as ocean temperatures increase.

University of Delaware researcher Adam Marsh dives under the Antarctic ice.
Credit: Photo by Stacy Kim

Researchers at the University of Delaware are examining tiny worms that inhabit the frigid sea off Antarctica to learn not only how these organisms adapt to the severe cold, but how they will survive as ocean temperatures increase.

The National Science Foundation study, led by Adam Marsh, associate professor of marine biosciences in UD's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, also will compare the process of temperature adaptation in the polar worm, known scientifically as Capitella perarmata, with that of a close relative that inhabits temperate waters, Capitella teleta.

"By comparing these two marine species, we hope to assess how a polar environment shapes responses to environmental stress," says Marsh. "By better understanding how the environment can trigger genetic changes -- through the genes the polar worm turns on or 'expresses' -- we can gain insight into the potential impact of global warming on marine ecosystems."

Arriving in late August at McMurdo Station on Ross Island, Antarctica's largest outpost, Marsh and his research team undertook a series of dives in the freezing waters over the next two months to collect the polar sea worms, which are segmented like earthworms but belong to the class known as "polychaetes."

At a mere half-inch long and no thicker than the lead in a No. 2 pencil, Capitella perarmata would be a challenge to collect even on dry land. Because the worms feed on organic matter, the researchers have found the most abundant concentrations in the top layer of sediment from McMurdo Station's old sewage outfall. The divers collect buckets filled with sediment, from which the worms are sieved.

Just getting to the underwater site takes some doing, as UD doctoral student Annamarie Pasqualone points out. Pasqualone, who is from Medford, N.J., stayed on to complete the experiments in Crary Laboratory, McMurdo Station's science building. She will depart the frozen continent before Christmas to travel back to Delaware.

"A three-foot-diameter hole needs to be drilled through about seven feet of ice, and then a heated dive hut must be placed over the newly drilled hole in order to prevent it from freezing over -- and to keep the divers happy when they surface out of the seawater, which is at a temperature of minus one degree Celsius," she says.

Pasqualone has been assessing the worms' physiological and biochemical responses as they acclimate to an increase in environmental temperature from -1.5 degrees C to 4 degrees C in laboratory experiments. Additional experiments are under way in Marsh's lab at UD's Hugh R. Sharp Campus in Lewes.

For this project, the Marsh laboratory is focusing on identifying epigenetic changes in DNA methylation in these worms -- in other words, how the environment is influencing the worms' genetic code. DNA methylation is a process in animals and plants where environmental signals are "imprinted" on genes in a genome by chemical modification of cytosine -- one of the bases of the DNA code -- to 5'-methyl-cytosine. By tracking changes in metabolic activity and locating genes where methylation changes are active, the scientists will be able to pinpoint the types of genes involved in the temperature acclimation process.

Marsh says he hopes the results of the study will shed light on the ability of some Antarctic species to survive current levels of ocean warming.

"The coastal waters around Antarctica have been at very stable temperatures for millions of years," Marsh says. "This low-temperature environment has led to the evolution of many endemic polar marine species. As global sea-surface temperatures rise, temperatures in Antarctica will also increase. For animals that are used to constant cold conditions, even slight increases in temperature can have large impacts on survival."

Data yielded by the study on how extreme environmental conditions help shape genes and proteins also could have important economic applications.

Marsh and colleague Joe Grzymski at the Desert Research Institute in Nevada recently co-founded Evozym Biologics, a startup company, to accelerate the discovery of useful proteins for developing new antibiotic drugs and biofuels. The catalyst was their respective research on other Antarctic "extremophiles" -- soil microbes for Grzymski and Antarctic sea urchins for Marsh.

"This information has a huge potential for commercial use in the field of synthetic biology," Marsh notes. "Many of the industrial-scale processes that utilize enzymes require that these proteins are synthetically designed to work efficiently under extreme conditions. In bioreactors, for example, conditions of high heat or high acid are common and require bioengineered proteins for increased stability and catalytic efficiency."

Marsh's Antarctic team also included Stacy Kim, a scientist at California's Moss Landing Marine Laboratories, Stephanie Guida, a UD doctoral student from Milton, Del., and Michael League, a science teacher at Millsboro Middle School in Millsboro, Del.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Delaware. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

University of Delaware. "Will Antarctic worms warm to changing climate?." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 21 December 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111220133942.htm>.
University of Delaware. (2011, December 21). Will Antarctic worms warm to changing climate?. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 30, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111220133942.htm
University of Delaware. "Will Antarctic worms warm to changing climate?." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/12/111220133942.htm (accessed September 30, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

California University Designs Sustainable Winery

California University Designs Sustainable Winery

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 27, 2014) Amid California's worst drought in decades, scientists at UC Davis design a sustainable winery that includes a water recycling system. Vanessa Johnston reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
Argentina Worries Over Decline of Soybean Prices

Argentina Worries Over Decline of Soybean Prices

AFP (Sep. 27, 2014) The drop in price of soy on the international market is a cause for concern in Argentina, as soybean exports are a major source of income for Latin America's third largest economy. Duration: 01:10 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Mama Bear, Cubs Hang out in California Backyard

Mama Bear, Cubs Hang out in California Backyard

Reuters - US Online Video (Sep. 27, 2014) A mama bear and her two cubs climb trees, wrestle and take naps in the backyard of a Monrovia, California home. Vanessa Johnston reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Crazy' Climate Forces Colombian Farmers to Adapt

'Crazy' Climate Forces Colombian Farmers to Adapt

AFP (Sep. 26, 2014) Once upon a time, farming was a blissfully low-tech business on Colombia's northern plains. Duration: 02:05 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins