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Mol Ecol. 2014 Mar;23(6):1348-63. doi: 10.1111/mec.12365. Epub 2013 Aug 20.

Specificity and transcriptional activity of microbiota associated with low and high microbial abundance sponges from the Red Sea.

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  • 1Department of Botany II, Julius-von-Sachs Institute for Biological Sciences, University of Wuerzburg, Julius-von-Sachs Platz 3, 97082, Wuerzburg, Germany.


Marine sponges are generally classified as high microbial abundance (HMA) and low microbial abundance (LMA) species. Here, 16S rRNA amplicon sequencing was applied to investigate the diversity, specificity and transcriptional activity of microbes associated with an LMA sponge (Stylissa carteri), an HMA sponge (Xestospongia testudinaria) and sea water collected from the central Saudi Arabia coast of the Red Sea. Altogether, 887 068 denoised sequences were obtained, of which 806 661 sequences remained after quality control. This resulted in 1477 operational taxonomic units (OTUs) that were assigned to 27 microbial phyla. The microbial composition of S. carteri was more similar to that of sea water than to that of X. testudinaria, which is consistent with the observation that the sequence data set of S. carteri contained many more possibly sea water sequences (~24%) than the X. testudinaria data set (~6%). The most abundant OTUs were shared between all three sources (S. carteri, X. testudinaria, sea water), while rare OTUs were unique to any given source. Despite this high degree of overlap, each sponge species contained its own specific microbiota. The X. testudinaria-specific bacterial taxa were similar to those already described for this species. A set of S. carteri-specific bacterial taxa related to Proteobacteria and Nitrospira was identified, which are likely permanently associated with S. carteri. The transcriptional activity of sponge-associated microorganisms correlated well with their abundance. Quantitative PCR revealed the presence of Poribacteria, representing typical sponge symbionts, in both sponge species and in sea water; however, low transcriptional activity in sea water suggested that Poribacteria are not active outside the host context.


marine sponges; microbial diversity; pyrosequencing; sponge-specific microbes; symbiosis; transcriptional activity

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