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Environ Microbiol. 2012 Feb;14(2):517-24. doi: 10.1111/j.1462-2920.2011.02664.x. Epub 2011 Dec 12.

Sponge-specific clusters revisited: a comprehensive phylogeny of sponge-associated microorganisms.

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Centre for Microbial Innovation, School of Biological Sciences, The University of Auckland, Auckland 1142, New Zealand.


Marine sponges often contain diverse and abundant communities of microorganisms including bacteria, archaea and eukaryotic microbes. Numerous 16S rRNA-based studies have identified putative 'sponge-specific' microbes that are apparently absent from seawater and other (non-sponge) marine habitats. With more than 7500 sponge-derived rRNA sequences (from clone, isolate and denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis data) now publicly available, we sought to determine whether the current notion of sponge-specific sequence clusters remains valid. Comprehensive phylogenetic analyses were performed on the 7546 sponge-derived 16S and 18S rRNA sequences that were publicly available in early 2010. Overall, 27% of all sequences fell into monophyletic, sponge-specific sequence clusters. Such clusters were particularly well represented among the Chloroflexi, Cyanobacteria, 'Poribacteria', Betaproteobacteria and Acidobacteria, and in total were identified in at least 14 bacterial phyla, as well as the Archaea and fungi. The largest sponge-specific cluster, representing the cyanobacterium 'Synechococcus spongiarum', contained 245 sequences from 40 sponge species. These results strongly support the existence of sponge-specific microbes and provide a suitable framework for future studies of rare and abundant sponge symbionts, both of which can now be studied using next-generation sequencing technologies.

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