Sponge microbiome stability during environmental acquisition of highly specific photosymbionts

Maya Britstein, Carlo Cerrano, Ilia Burgsdorf, Luca Zoccarato, Nathan J. Kenny, Ana Riesgo, Maya Lalzar, Laura Steindler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


In this study, we used in situ transplantations to provide the first evidence of horizontal acquisition of cyanobacterial symbionts by a marine sponge. The acquisition of the symbionts by the host sponge Petrosia ficiformis, which was observed in distinct visible patches, appeared several months after transplantation and at different times on different sponge specimens. We further used 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing of genomic DNA (gDNA) and complementary DNA (cDNA) and metatranscriptomics to investigate how the acquisition of the symbiotic cyanobacterium Candidatus Synechococcus feldmannii perturbed the diverse microbiota associated with the host P. ficiformis. To our surprise, the microbiota remained relatively stable during cyanobacterial symbiont acquisition at both structural (gDNA content) and activity (cDNA expression) levels. At the transcriptomic level, photosynthesis was the primary function gained following the acquisition of cyanobacteria. Genes involved in carotene production and oxidative stress tolerance were among those highly expressed by Ca. S. feldmannii, suggesting that this symbiont may protect itself and its host from damaging light radiation.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3593-3607
Number of pages15
JournalEnvironmental Microbiology
Issue number8
StatePublished - 1 Aug 2020

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by the Israel Science Foundation [grant no. 1243/16] titled ‘Identification of molecular mechanisms underlying sponge‐microbiome symbiosis’. We would like to thank Dr. Stefan Green, director of the DNA Services Facility (DNAS) within the Research Resources Centre (RRC) at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC), for useful comments and suggestions when planning the sequencing for this project. We would also like to thank Portofino Divers and Diving Evolution for logistic support during field activities. We thank Marine Protected Area of Portofino for scientific permission (n. 2/2015 (n. prot. 366/2‐1‐1)). We also thank Rami Tsadok for assisting with the planning and construction of the underwater chamber.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 Society for Applied Microbiology and John Wiley & Sons Ltd.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics


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