Using mussels as sentinels of biodiversity in sub-Antartic ecosystems

The ZATA LTSER welcomes a new scientific program, called “MUSSELKER”, led by Stéphane Betoulle and Yves St-Pierre. The general objective of this new program revolves around the mussel as a sentinel species for monitoring the health and biodiversity of marine ecosystems in response to climate change.

The program is a logical continuation of work carried out by both investigators during previous missions in sub-Antarctic Kerguelen Islands. It combines recent advances in high throughput analytical methods, including 2nd and 3rd generation DNA/RNA sequencing platforms and the concept of liquid biopsy to study the microbial flora of mussels, including viral and bacterial organisms. Viral and bacterial microbiome analysis from hemolymphatic liquid biopsies of mussels holds great promise as novel biomarkers for assessing the health status of marine ecosystems in response to climate change and pollution.


Mussels of the Kerguelen marine ecosystems. Aulacomya ater (also known ad the ribbed mussels) and Mytilus platensis (also called M. desolationis, or blue mussels). Because they provide shelter from predation and secondary substratum, trap sediment, alter water flow and filter large quantities of seston particles, mussel beds provides a biogenic habitat for a large number of microbial and faunal species, including bacteria, archea, viruses, algae, worms, snails, marine mammals, fish, and crustaceans.

The program also exploits the concept of plasma-derived circulating cell-free DNA to study the local faunal assemblages to better understand how biotic and abiotic factors, most notably those associated with climate change, impact the biodiversity of Kerguelen’s coastal marine ecosystem.

From a fundamental point of view, the project will provide a detailed knowledge on the heterogeneity of microbiome and biodiversity within a mussel bed of Kerguelen and how biotic and abiotic factors impact on this heterogeneity. The project will also help to develop novel multi-omics predictive tools for long term studies aimed at measuring the impact of environmental stress on marine coastal ecosystems.

The MUSSELKER program is developing novel multi-omics biomarkers for monitoring the impact of climate change on marine coast ecosystems.

These molecular approaches are combined with ethical and logistically-friendly sampling FTA-based platforms that facilitate collection, storage, and shipping of samples, an essential feature for long-term studies in polar regions such as Kerguelen. Although this platform is focused on mussels, the program welcomes collaborative research initiatives for the use of this platform for other aquatic and terrestrial organisms.


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