Sea Urchins Thrive in Acidic Oceans

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Many ocean species suffer from the increasing acidity of the oceans caused by increased absorption of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, some sea urchins may have an evolutionary trick that allows them to evolve around the difficulties of ocean acidification.

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Some purple sea urchins’ DNA contain genes that help young urchins survive in acidic water, according to research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS). Wild populations of the urchins may contain enough genetic diversity to allow them to rapidly evolve resistance to acidic oceans.

The research, conducted at Stanford University, exposed sea urchin larvae to a range of water acidities, including levels thought to match the oceans of 2100. Even in highly acidic waters, the urchins thrived.

“They didn’t suffer because among them were some individuals with the right genes to be able to grow well in those harsh conditions,” said lead author Melissa Pespeni, a former Stanford postdoctoral fellow, in a press release.

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Acidic oceans don’t seem to sour urchins reproductive success, which may be a good thing for those who fancy the taste of their reproductive organs, called roe, or uni in Japanese sushi restaurants.

IMAGE: Sea Urchin appetizers (and dessert) with chef Chad White at Sea Rocket Bistro in North Park, San Diego, Calif. (Nelvin C. Cepeda, Corbis)

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