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Mussel mass mortality in the Clinch River, USA: Metabolomics detects affected pathways and biomarkers of stress

September 5, 2023

Biologists monitoring freshwater mussel (order Unionida) populations rely on behavioral, often subjective, signs to identify moribund (“sick”) or stressed mussels, such as gaping valves and slow response to probing, and they lack clinical indicators to support a diagnosis. As part of a multi-year study to investigate causes of reoccurring mortality of pheasantshell (Ortmanniana pectorosa; synonym Actinonaias pectorosa) in the Clinch River, Virginia and Tennessee, USA, we analyzed the hemolymph metabolome of a subset of mussels from the 2018 sampling period. Mussels at the mortality sites were diagnosed in the field as affected (case) or unaffected (control) based on behavioral and physical signs. Hemolymph was collected in the field by non-lethal methods from the anterior adductor muscle for analysis. We used ultra-high-performance liquid chromatography with quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectroscopy to detect targeted and untargeted metabolites in hemolymph and compared metabolomic profiles by field assessment of clinical status. Targeted biomarker analysis found 13 metabolites associated with field assessments of clinical status. Of these, increased gamma-linolenic acid and N-methyl-L-alanine were most indicative of case mussels, while adenine and inosine were the best indicators of control mussels. Five pathways in the targeted analysis differed by clinical status; two of these, purine metabolism and glycerophospholipid metabolism, were also indicated in the untargeted analysis. In the untargeted nalysis, 22 metabolic pathways were associated with clinical status. Many of the impacted pathways in the case group were catabolic processes, such as degradation of amino acids and fatty acids. Hierarchical clustering analysis matched clinical status in 72% (18 of 25) of mussels, with control mussels more frequently (5 of 16) not matching clinical status. Our study demonstrated that metabolomic analysis of hemolymph is suitable for assessing mussel condition and complements field-based indicators of health.

Publication Year 2023
Title Mussel mass mortality in the Clinch River, USA: Metabolomics detects affected pathways and biomarkers of stress
DOI 10.1093/conphys/coad074
Authors Joel G. Putnam, John Steiner, Jordon Richard, Eric Leis, Tony Goldberg, Christopher D. Dunn, Rose Agbalog, Susan Knowles, Diane L. Waller
Publication Type Article
Publication Subtype Journal Article
Series Title Conservation Physiology
Index ID 70252489
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization National Wildlife Health Center; Upper Midwest Environmental Sciences Center