Our world is changing: our oceans are becoming warmer and more acidic. Understanding the consequences of this is one of the big science challenges of the 21st Century. The oceans of the planet are closely linked with human health and wellbeing, through their impact on climate and their socio-economic importance.
Shellfish, in particular molluscs, have thick shells which are made up of a high percentage of calcium containing compounds. When water becomes more acidic, the shells dissolve more easily and the shell is also more difficult to make. If the animal cannot compensate for this, then the shell will be more fragile, making it more susceptible to damage, which exposes the animal to predators and infection. Understanding how these animals make shells and regulate shell production in the natural environment is critical to our understanding of how they will fare under climate change.
The CACHE network will study how shells are produced and controlled in four of Europe’s most important commercial marine shellfish species, oysters, mussels, clams and scallops. This will improve our ability to predict future shellfish biodiversity and aquaculture production in a rapidly changing world. Also, knowledge of the natural processes by which a soluble compound (calcium) is used to produce robust solid structures (shell) with very little input of energy will also be explored with reference to biotechnology exploitation.
CACHE is a €3.6M Marie Curie Initial Training Network (ITN) funded by the People Programme (Marie Curie Actions) of the European Union’s Seventh Framework programme FP7/2007-2013/ under REA grant agreement n° 13.
Watch this video made by the project’s young scientists from across Europe. They discuss how global environmental changes are likely to affect commercial shellfish production.
We want to understand how calcium is used to produce and maintain shells in the marine environment. This will be achieved through training the next cohort of young scientists to tackle complex biological problems using multidisciplinary approaches and to become future leaders and innovators at the interface between pure research and commercial exploitation.
Questions we are tackling
1. How does shell thickness vary in the natural environment? Is it related to environmental conditions or genetics? 2. Where does the calcium come from to produce the shells? is if from the sea water or from food? What are the energetic costs of shell production? 3. Can we change shell thickness using experimental manipulation? Are different populations better at making shells than others? How can we use this knowledge to improve future aquaculture production? 4. What are the genes and proteins involved in shell production and calcium regulation? What do they do? How do they work together to produce a shell? 5. How is calcium transported around the animal and into the shell? Can we use this knowledge for the development of biotechnology and biomimicry applications? 6. What does this mean for the aquaculture industry in the future?
New technologies and techniques used in a scientific study of the shells of oysters, mussels, clams and scallops reveal clues about how these commercially valuable species may fare in a changing world, and how discarded shells from the aquaculture industry could benefit the environment.