Improved Comet Assay for the Assessment of UV Genotoxicity in Mediterranean Sea Urchin Eggs

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Abstract

Gametes and embryos of broadcast spawners are exposed to a wide range of chemical and physical stressors which may alone, or in conjunction, have serious consequences on reproductive outcomes. In this study, two Mediterranean echinoid species, Paracentrotus lividus and Sphaerechinus granularis, were chosen as models to study the genotoxicity of UV radiation (UVR) on the eggs of broadcast-spawning marine invertebrates. The single cell gel electrophoresis, or Comet assay, was successfully adapted to assess DNA strand breakage in sea urchin eggs. The results demonstrated that the genetic material of sea urchin eggs is susceptible to environmentally realistic UV exposure. The induction of DNA damage in the irradiated unfertilized eggs suggests that the previously described defense mechanisms in sea urchin eggs do not completely protect the egg's DNA against UV toxicity. Taken together, our results suggest that UV-impairment of the genetic integrity of the eggs might have a role in postfertilization failures and abnormal embryonic development. Although both species were vulnerable to UVR, embryonic development was less dramatically impaired in P. Lividus. This observation supports the postulation that species inhabiting shallower environments possess more efficient mechanisms to overcome UV-induced DNA alterations. The present demonstration of the utility and sensitivity of the Comet assay to evaluate DNA integrity in eggs from marine invertebrates opens new perspectives for monitoring the long-term effects of environmental exposure on populations and for the routine screening of substances for genotoxicity in marine systems.

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