Solitary ascidians embryos (Chordata, Tunicata) as model organisms for testing coastal pollutant toxicity
Keywords:heavy-metals, antifoulants, pesticides, development, Tunicates, ascidians
Marine coastal communities are daily exposed to several chemical compounds commonly used in
agriculture and industrial activities. Therefore, toxicological studies evaluating the effects of these
compounds on marine organisms are of primary importance for marine environment preservation.
Different model organisms are used to perform toxicity tests with potential pollutants, under laboratory conditions. In last decades, solitary ascidians have been selected as valuable model organisms to run bioassays with embryos and larvae. In fact, by in vitro fertilization, it is easy to obtain thousands of embryos, rapidly developing and therefore allowing a fast screen of pollutant toxicity. The aim of this review was to summarize results from toxicity tests, run with heavy metals, organometal and organic compounds, on solitary ascidian development and settlement to evidence that these animals offer several advantages as models to perform these kind of studies. First of all, they have a sensitiveness directly comparable to that of other marine model organisms. Moreover, the effects of toxicants on exposed embryos and larvae could be studied using different approaches, from ultrastructure to genetic analysis. Finally, since ascidians are chordates morphological and gene expression analyses could provide data for comparative studies with vertebrates.