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Appl Environ Microbiol. 2011 Oct;77(20):7207-16. doi: 10.1128/AEM.05285-11. Epub 2011 Aug 19.

Sponge-associated bacteria are strictly maintained in two closely related but geographically distant sponge hosts.

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Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology, University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, Baltimore, MD 21202, USA.


The giant barrel sponges Xestospongia muta and Xestospongia testudinaria are ubiquitous in tropical reefs of the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, respectively. They are key species in their respective environments and are hosts to diverse assemblages of bacteria. These two closely related sponges from different oceans provide a unique opportunity to examine the evolution of sponge-associated bacterial communities. Mitochondrial cytochrome oxidase subunit I gene sequences from X. muta and X. testudinaria showed little divergence between the two species. A detailed analysis of the bacterial communities associated with these sponges, comprising over 900 full-length 16S rRNA gene sequences, revealed remarkable similarity in the bacterial communities of the two species. Both sponge-associated communities include sequences found only in the two Xestospongia species, as well as sequences found also in other sponge species and are dominated by three bacterial groups, Chloroflexi, Acidobacteria, and Actinobacteria. While these groups consistently dominate the bacterial communities revealed by 16S rRNA gene-based analysis of sponge-associated bacteria, the depth of sequencing undertaken in this study revealed clades of bacteria specifically associated with each of the two Xestospongia species, and also with the genus Xestospongia, that have not been found associated with other sponge species or other ecosystems. This study, comparing the bacterial communities associated with closely related but geographically distant sponge hosts, gives new insight into the intimate relationships between marine sponges and some of their bacterial symbionts.

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