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Polychaetes are frequented in toxicological studies, one reason being that some members occupy shallow burrows in sediments and are maximally exposed to the contaminants that accumulate within them. We have been studying one population of the polychaete Nereis (Hediste) diversicolor exhibiting inheritable tolerance to extreme copper contamination in estuarine sediment. Using transcriptome sequencing data we have identified a suite of genes with putative roles in metal detoxification and tolerance, and measured their regulation. Copper tolerant individuals display significantly different gene expression profiles compared to animals from a nearby population living without remarkable copper levels. Gene transcripts encoding principle copper homeostasis proteins including membrane copper ion transporters, copper ion chaperones and putative metallothionein-like proteins were significantly more abundant in tolerant animals occupying contaminated sediment. In contrast, those encoding antioxidants and cellular repair pathways were unchanged. Nontolerant animals living in contaminated sediment showed no difference in copper homeostasis-related gene expression but did have significantly elevated levels of mRNAs encoding Glutathione Peroxidase enzymes. This study represents the first use of functional genomics to investigate the copper tolerance trait in this species and provides insight into the mechanism used by these individuals to survive and flourish in conditions which are lethal to their conspecifics.

Original publication




Journal article


Environ Sci Technol

Publication Date





13085 - 13092


Animals, Copper, Environmental Pollution, Estuaries, Gene Expression Regulation, Geologic Sediments, Molecular Sequence Annotation, Polychaeta, RNA, Messenger, Sequence Analysis, RNA, Spectrophotometry, Atomic, Stress, Physiological, Transcriptome