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Challenges for using quantitative PCR test batteries as a TIE-type approach to identify metal exposure in benthic invertebrates


The epibenthic amphipod Melita plumulosa shows unique gene expression profiles when exposed to different contaminants. We hypothesized that specific changes in transcript abundance could be used in a battery of quantitative polymerase chain reaction (qPCR) assays as a toxicity identification evaluation (TIE)-like approach to identify the most relevant stressor in field-contaminated sediments. To test this hypothesis, seven candidate transcriptomic markers were selected, and their specificity following metal exposure was confirmed. The performance of these markers across different levels of added metals was verified. The ability of these transcripts to act as markers was tested by exposing amphipods to metal-contaminated field-collected sediments and measuring changes in transcript abundance via qPCR. For two of the three sediments tested, at least some of the transcriptomic patterns matched our predictions, suggesting that they would be effective in helping to identify metal exposure in field sediments. However, following exposure to the third sediment, transcriptomic patterns were unlike our predictions. These results suggest that the seven transcripts may be insufficient to discern individual contaminants from complex mixtures and that microarray or RNA-Seq global gene expression profiles may be more effective for TIE. Changes in transcriptomics based on laboratory exposures to single compounds should be carefully validated before the results are used to analyze mixtures.

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The authors acknowledge the assistance of Ian Hamilton (CSIRO, Land and Water) with animal husbandry and exposures. Chad Jarolimek and Josh King (CSIRO, Land and Water) assisted with the analytical chemistry of the metals. Funding for this study was provided by the CSIRO Land and Water Capability Development Theme.

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Correspondence to Sharon E. Hook.

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Responsible editor: Philippe Garrigues

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Hook, S.E., Osborn, H.L., Spadaro, D.A. et al. Challenges for using quantitative PCR test batteries as a TIE-type approach to identify metal exposure in benthic invertebrates. Environ Sci Pollut Res 22, 17280–17289 (2015).

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  • Amphipods
  • Gene expression
  • Metal toxicity
  • Sediments
  • TIE
  • Reproductive toxicity
  • Transcriptomics