Diversity and biotechnological potential of the sponge-associated microbial consortia



Sponges are well known to harbor diverse microbes and represent a significant source of bioactive natural compounds derived from the marine environment. Recent studies of the microbial communities of marine sponges have uncovered previously undescribed species and an array of new chemical compounds. In contrast to natural compounds, studies on enzymes with biotechnological potential from microbes associated with sponges are rare although enzymes with novel activities that have potential medical and biotechnological applications have been identified from sponges and microbes associated with sponges. Both bacteria and fungi have been isolated from a wide range of marine sponge, but the diversity and symbiotic relationship of bacteria has been studied to a greater extent than that of fungi isolated from sponges. Molecular methods (e.g., rDNA, DGGE, and FISH) have revealed a great diversity of the unculturable bacteria and archaea. Metagenomic approaches have identified interesting metabolic pathways responsible for the production of natural compounds and may provide a new avenue to explore the microbial diversity and biotechnological potential of marine sponges. In addition, other eukaryotic organisms such as diatoms and unicellular algae from marine sponges are also being described using these molecular techniques. Many natural compounds derived from sponges are suspected to be of bacterial origin, but only a few studies have provided convincing evidence for symbiotic producers in sponges. Microbes in sponges exist in different associations with sponges including the true symbiosis. Fungi derived from marine sponges represent the single most prolific source of diverse bioactive marine fungal compounds found to date. There is a developing interest in determining the true diversity of fungi present in marine sponges and the nature of the association. Molecular methods will allow scientists to more accurately identify fungal species and determine actual diversity of sponge-associated fungi. This is especially important as greater cooperation between bacteriologists, mycologists, natural product chemists, and bioengineers is needed to provide a well-coordinated effort in studying the diversity, ecology, physiology, and association between bacteria, fungi, and other organisms present in marine sponges.


Marine sponges Natural products Bacteria Fungi Industrial enzymes Biotechnology 


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© Society for Industrial Microbiology 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of OceanographyUniversity of Hawaii at Manoa HonoluluUSA

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