Sponge and Microbe Interactions: Unlocking Their Secrets

Jenn Hoskins
9th April, 2024

Sponge and Microbe Interactions: Unlocking Their Secrets

Image Source: Natural Science News, 2024

Key Findings

  • Study conducted on Hawaiian sponge Mycale grandis and its microbes
  • Sponge and microbes show stable communities but vary in gene activity across environments
  • Sponge's immune genes linked to microbial diversity and activity, suggesting close host-microbe interaction
Marine sponges, simple yet fascinating organisms, have intrigued scientists for their ability to form symbiotic relationships with a diverse array of microorganisms. These relationships are not just a curiosity; they are fundamental to our understanding of marine ecosystems and the evolutionary history of life on Earth. The recent research from Shanghai Jiao Tong University[1] delves into the intricate world of sponges and their associated microbial communities, known as holobionts, by examining the Hawaiian demosponge Mycale grandis. Sponges are among the oldest animals on the planet, with a lineage that stretches back more than 600 million years[2]. They have a unique body plan that lacks true tissues and organs, yet they share a surprising number of genes with other, more complex animals. These genes play roles in critical biological processes, such as cell cycle control, development, and immunity[2]. The simplicity of sponges, combined with their genetic complexity, makes them ideal subjects for studying the fundamentals of animal biology, including the interactions between host organisms and their symbiotic partners. The study of microbial communities within sponges has been hampered by varying methodologies, which has limited our ability to compare microbial diversity and structure across different sponge species and environments[3]. To address this, researchers have been working towards standardizing the procedures for extracting and analyzing microbial DNA from sponges. This effort has led to the creation of comprehensive datasets that can be used to explore the relationships between sponges and their microbial symbionts on a global scale[3]. A global survey of the sponge microbiome has revealed an astonishing diversity of microbes living within these animals[4]. Interestingly, there seems to be little overlap in the species composition of microbial communities across the phylum Porifera, to which sponges belong. However, the core microbiomes of these sponges—those species of microbes most closely associated with the host—are characterized by generalists that engage in stable and neutral interactions with their hosts[4]. Building on this foundation, the recent study by Shanghai Jiao Tong University aimed to expand our understanding of the sponge hologenome—the collective genetic information of the sponge and its symbiotic microbial community. The researchers chose Mycale grandis as their model organism and investigated how this sponge and its associated microbes interact at the genetic level in different ecological niches. The team employed a combination of advanced genetic sequencing and microarray technologies to analyze both the sponge's and its symbionts' gene expression profiles. By comparing these profiles across different living conditions—sponges attached to rocks, living on the surface of coral, and under algae—the researchers could discern how environmental factors influence the host-microbe relationship. The findings of this study are significant because they go beyond identifying which microbes are present. By looking at gene expression, scientists can understand what the microbes are doing and how they are interacting with their sponge host. This level of detail can shed light on the functional roles that these microbes play within the sponge holobiont, such as nutrient cycling, defense against pathogens, and support of the sponge's structural integrity. Moreover, the study's integrative approach provides a more holistic view of the sponge holobiont, considering not just the presence of microbial genes but also their activity and interaction with the sponge's own genes. This can help elucidate the evolutionary adaptations that have enabled sponges to thrive in various marine environments and to maintain stable symbiotic relationships over millions of years. In conclusion, the research from Shanghai Jiao Tong University represents a significant step forward in our understanding of sponge holobionts. By integrating cutting-edge genetic techniques, the study offers new insights into the complex interplay between sponges and their microbial partners. These findings not only contribute to our fundamental knowledge of marine biology but also have implications for conservation efforts and the potential biotechnological applications of sponge-microbe systems.

GeneticsEcologyMarine Biology


Main Study

1) Niche–dependent sponge hologenome expression profiles and the host-microbes interplay: a case of the hawaiian demosponge Mycale Grandis

Published 8th April, 2024


Related Studies

2) The Amphimedon queenslandica genome and the evolution of animal complexity.


3) The sponge microbiome project.


4) Diversity, structure and convergent evolution of the global sponge microbiome.


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