Some sea urchins, including the purple sea urchin Strongylocentrotus purpuratus, have been successfully used in aquaculture, but their slow growth and late reproduction are challenging to overcome when developing efficient aquaculture production techniques. S. purpuratus develops via an indirect life history that is characterized by a drastic settlement process at the end of a larval period that lasts for several weeks. During this transition, the bilateral larva is transformed into a pentaradial juvenile, which will start feeding and growing in the benthic habitat. Due to predation and other ecological factors, settlement is typically associated with high mortality rates in juvenile populations. Additionally, juveniles require several days to develop a functional mouth and digestive system. During this perimetamorphic period, juveniles use up larval resources until they are capable to digest adult food. Mechanisms underlying the onset of juvenile feeding and metabolism have implications for the recruitment of natural populations as well as aquaculture and are relatively poorly understood in S. purpuratus. The insulin/insulin-like growth factor signalling (IIS)/Target of Rapamycin (TOR) pathway (IIS/TOR) is well conserved among animal phyla and regulates physiological and developmental functions, such as growth, reproduction, aging and nutritional status. We analyzed the expression of FoxO, TOR, and ILPs in post-settlement juveniles in conjunction with their early growth trajectories. We also tested how pre-settlement starvation affected post-settlement expression of IIS. We found that FoxO provides a useful molecular marker in early juveniles as its expression is strongly correlated with juvenile growth. We also found that pre-settlement starvation affects juvenile growth trajectories as well as IIS. Our findings provide preliminary insights into the mechanisms underlying post-settlement growth and metabolism in S. purpuratus. They also have important implications for sea urchin aquaculture, as they show that pre-settlement nutrient environment significantly affects both early growth trajectories and gene expression. This information can be used to develop new biomarkers for juvenile health in sea urchin population ecology and aquaculture aquaculture.
- Developmental biology
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