Efforts to develop a cultured sponge cell line: Revisiting an intractable problem

James J. Grasela, Shirley A. Pomponi, Buki Rinkevich, Jennifer Grima

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Residents of the marine environment, sponges (Porifera) have the ability to produce organic compounds known as secondary metabolites, which are not directly involved in the normal growth, development, or reproduction of an organism. Because of their sessile nature, the production of these bioactive compounds has been interpreted as a functional adaptation to serve in an important survival role as a means to counter various environmental stress factors such as predation, overgrowth by fouling organisms, or competition for limited space. Regardless of the reasons for this adaptation, a variety of isolated compounds have already proven to demonstrate remarkable anticancer, fungicidal, and antibiotic properties. A major obstacle to the isolation and production of novel compounds from sponges is the lack of a large, reliable source of sponge material. Sponge collection from the sea would be environmentally detrimental to the already stressed and sparse sponge populations. Sponge production in an aquaculture setting might appear to be an ideal alternative but would also be cost-ineffective and sponge growth is extremely slow. A third approach involves the development of a sponge cell culture system capable of producing the necessary cell numbers to harvest for research purposes as well as for the eventual commercial-scale production of promising bioactive compounds. Unfortunately, little progress has been made in this direction other than the establishment of temporary cultures containing aggregates and fragments of cells. One impediment toward successful sponge cell culture might be ascribed to a lack of published knowledge of failed methodologies, and thus, time and effort is wasted on continued reinvention of the same methods and procedures. Consequently, we have undertaken here to chart some of our unsuccessful research efforts, our methodology, and results to provide the sponge research community with knowledge to assist them to better avoid taking the same failed pathways.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)12-20
Number of pages9
JournalIn Vitro Cellular and Developmental Biology - Animal
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Aseptic conditions
  • Cell fusion
  • Cell-substrate adhesion
  • In vitro
  • Inorganic phosphate
  • Nutritional requirements
  • Ras gene
  • Sponge cells

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cell Biology
  • Developmental Biology


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