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Created by George Rice, Montana State University


Image on the left is of a barell sponge spawning. In the middle photograph, the pumping action of a sponge is illustrated. A non-toxic yellow dye has been squirted around the base of a purple tube sponge in the Caribbean. Shortly thereafter, the dye is pumped out through the osculum at the top of the sponge. Photo on the right is of branching sponges taken from a travel promotion. To learn more about the basics of sponges visit Sponges, The Weird Wonders of the Seas


With culture-based and molecular methods, considerable progress has been made in characterizing the complex microbial communities associated with Key Largo sponges (Xestospongia muta, Ircinia strobilina, Axinella corrugata, Monanchora unguifera and Mycale laxissima), the sponge Microciona prolifera found in the Chesapeake Bay, and Xestospongia testudinaria from Indonesia.


  • The sponges Ircinia strobilina and Mycale laxissima have been maintained in both flow-through and recirculating aquaculture systems (IMAGE) while changes in the microbial communities of these captive sponges have been continuously monitored.

  • Predominant culturable isolates from all sponges have been identified, and molecular analysis of sponge-associated bacterial communities has revealed that that there are many novel bacteria present in sponges.

  • One major finding has been the discovery that the microbial communities of Xestospongia spp. include many novel actinobacteria. These new members of the species fall in the little-studied subclass Acidimicrobidae. Four of these groups are found in the Xestospongia species with three of the four groups being found both in X. muta (Key Largo) and X. testudinaria (Indonesia). This suggests that these groups are true symbionts in these sponges and may play a common role in both the Pacific and Atlantic sponge species.

  • Very few representatives of the Acidimicrobidae have previously been cultured, and Xestospongia spp. can now be targeted as source material from which to culture novel Acidimicrobidae.

  • We have shown that some of these bacteria produce signaling compounds (acyl-homoserine lactone quorum sensing molecules) that may be important in complex relationships with the host sponges and their neighboring symbionts.

  • Dr. Chen's lab has made progress in optimizing protocols for bacterial harvesting, protein extraction and purification. They have employed 2-D gel based proteomic approach in order to investigate protein expression patterns from five different species of sponges.


Key Publications:




(see full list of publications supported by this MO grant)


Above left Dr. Russell Hill instructs students Susan Jackson, Linda Nwachukwu and Ammar Hanif on measuring water parameters from the Chesapeake Bay. Above right Dr. Clay Fuqua (left) assists Ammar Hanif in using thin layer chromatography to detect bacterial signaling compounds.


Copyright on all images (except for those mentioned at top of page), and material by Russell Hill 2005.