Marine molluscs in environmental monitoring. I. Cellular and molecular responses

Vladimir Bresler, Avigdor Abelson, Lev Fishelson, Tamar Feldstein, Michael Rosenfeld, Ofer Mokady*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The study reported here is part of an ongoing effort to establish sensitive and reliable biomonitoring markers for probing the coastal marine environment. Here, we report comparative measurements of a range of histological, cellular and sub-cellular parameters in molluscs sampled in polluted and reference sites along the Mediterranean coast of Israel and in the northern tip of the Gulf of Aqaba, Red Sea. Available species enabled an examination of conditions in two environmental 'compartments': benthic (Donax trunculus) and intertidal (Brachidontes pharaonis, Patella caerulea) in the Mediterranean; pelagic (Pteria aegyptia) and intertidal (Cellana rota) in the Red Sea. The methodology used provides rapid results by combining specialized fluorescent probes and contact microscopy, by which all parameters are measured in unprocessed animal tissue. The research focused on three interconnected levels. First, antixenobiotic defence mechanisms aimed at keeping hazardous agents outside the cell. Paracellular permeability was 70-100% higher in polluted sites, and membrane pumps (MXRtr and SATOA) activity was up to 65% higher in polluted compared to reference sites. Second, intracellular defence mechanisms that act to minimize potential damage by agents having penetrated the first line of defence. Metallothionein expression and EROD activity were 160-520% higher in polluted sites, and lysosomal functional activity (as measured by neutral red accumulation) was 25-50% lower. Third, damage caused by agents not sufficiently eliminated by the above mechanisms (e.g. single-stranded DNA breaks, chromosome damage and other pathological alterations). At this level, the most striking differences were observed in the rate of micronuclei formation and DNA breaks (up to 150% and 400% higher in polluted sites, respectively). The different mollusc species used feature very similar trends between polluted and reference sites in all measured parameters. Concentrating on relatively basic levels of biological organization-the molecular and cellular level-the parameters measured may have the capacity not only for biomonitoring environmental quality, but also for early warning.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-165
Number of pages9
JournalHelgoland Marine Research
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - Oct 2003


  • Antichemical defence mechanisms
  • Biomonitoring
  • Environmental health
  • Marine molluscs
  • Microfluorometry


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