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ISME J. 2010 Apr;4(4):498-508. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2009.143. Epub 2010 Jan 7.

Activity profiles for marine sponge-associated bacteria obtained by 16S rRNA vs 16S rRNA gene comparisons.

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School of Biological Sciences, The University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand.


The phylogenetic diversity of microorganisms in marine sponges is becoming increasingly well described, yet relatively little is known about the activities of these symbionts. Given the seemingly favourable environment provided to microbes by their sponge hosts, as indicated by the extraordinarily high abundance of sponge symbionts, we hypothesized that the majority of sponge-associated bacteria are active in situ. To test this hypothesis we compared, for the first time in sponges, 16S rRNA gene- vs 16S rRNA-derived bacterial community profiles to gain insights into symbiont composition and activity, respectively. Clone libraries revealed a highly diverse bacterial community in Ancorina alata, and a much lower diversity in Polymastia sp., which were identified by electron microscopy as a high- and a low-microbial abundance sponge, respectively. Substantial overlap between DNA and RNA libraries was evident at both phylum and phylotype levels, indicating in situ activity for a large fraction of sponge-associated bacteria. This active fraction included uncultivated, sponge-specific lineages within, for example, Actinobacteria, Chloroflexi and Gemmatimonadetes. This study shows the potential of RNA vs DNA comparisons based on the 16S rRNA gene to provide insights into the activity of sponge-associated microorganisms.

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