A comprehensive assessment of environmental ultraviolet radiation induced DNA damage in marine microorganisms

Jarah A Meador, The University of Texas Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences at Houston


There is evidence that ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is increasing over certain locations on the Earth's surface. Of primary concern is the annual pattern of ozone depletion over Antarctica and the Southern Ocean. Reduction of ozone concentration selectively limits absorption of solar UV-B (290–320 nm), resulting in higher irradiance at the Earth's surface. The effects of ozone depletion on the human population and natural ecosystems, particularly the marine environment, are a matter of considerable concern. Indeed, marine plankton may serve as sensitive indicators of ozone depletion and UV-B fluctuations. Direct biological effects of UVR result from absorption of UV-B by DNA. Once absorbed, energy is dissipated by a variety of pathways, including covalent chemical reactions leading to the formation of photoproducts. The major types of photoproduct formed are cyclobutyl pyrimidine dimer (CPD) and pyrimidine(6-4)pyrimidone dimer [(6-4)PD]. Marine plankton repair these photoproducts using light-dependent photoenzymatic repair or nucleotide excision repair. The studies here show that fluctuations in CPD concentrations in the marine environment at Palmer Station, Antarctica correlate well with ozone concentration and UV-B irradiance at the Earth's surface. A comparison of photoproduct levels in marine plankton and DNA dosimeters show that bacterioplankton display higher resistance to solar UVR than phytoplankton in an ozone depleted environment. DNA damage in marine microorganisms was investigated during two separate latitudinal transects which covered a total range of 140°. We observed the same pattern of change in DNA damage levels in dosimeters and marine plankton as measured using two distinct quantitative techniques. Results from the transects show that differences in photosensitivity exist in marine plankton collected under varying UVR environments. Laboratory studies of Antarctic bacterial isolates confirm that marine bacterioplankton possess differences in survival, DNA damage induction, and repair following exposure to UVR. Results from DNA damage measurements during ozone season, along a latitudinal gradient, and in marine bacterial isolates suggest that changes in environmental UVR correlate with changes in UV-B induced DNA damage in marine microorganisms. Differences in the ability to tolerate UVR stress under different environmental conditions may determine the composition of the microbial communities inhabiting those environments.

Subject Area

Environmental science|Molecular biology|Microbiology

Recommended Citation

Meador, Jarah A, "A comprehensive assessment of environmental ultraviolet radiation induced DNA damage in marine microorganisms" (2004). Texas Medical Center Dissertations (via ProQuest). AAI3138884.