Published December 26, 2018 | Version v1
Journal article Open

Marine Sponges as Chloroflexi Hot Spots: Genomic Insights and High-Resolution Visualization of an Abundant and Diverse Symbiotic Clade

  • 1. GEOMAR-Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, RD3-Marine Ecology, RU-Marine Microbiology, Kiel, Germany
  • 2. GEOMAR-Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, RD3-Marine Ecology, RU-Marine Microbiology, Kiel, Germany; University of Wuerzburg, Imaging Core Facility at the Theodor Boveri Institute of Bioscience, Wuerzburg, Germany
  • 3. Centre for Marine Bio-Innovation, University of New South Wales, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
  • 4. GEOMAR-Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research, RD3-Marine Ecology, RU-Marine Microbiology, Kiel, Germany; Christian-Albrechts University of Kiel, Kiel, Germany


ABSTRACT Members of the widespread bacterial phylum Chloroflexi can dominate high-microbial-abundance (HMA) sponge microbiomes. In the Sponge Microbiome Project, Chloroflexi sequences amounted to 20 to 30% of the total microbiome of certain HMA sponge genera with the classes/clades SAR202, Caldilineae, and An- aerolineae being the most prominent. We performed metagenomic and single- cell genomic analyses to elucidate the functional gene repertoire of Chloroflexi symbionts of Aplysina aerophoba. Eighteen draft genomes were reconstructed and placed into phylogenetic context of which six were investigated in detail. Common genomic features of Chloroflexi sponge symbionts were related to central energy and carbon converting pathways, amino acid and fatty acid metabolism, and respiration. Clade-specific metabolic features included a massively expanded genomic repertoire for carbohydrate degradation in Anaerolineae and Caldilineae ge- nomes, but only amino acid utilization by SAR202. While Anaerolineae and Caldilin- eae import cofactors and vitamins, SAR202 genomes harbor genes encoding compo- nents involved in cofactor biosynthesis. A number of features relevant to symbiosis were further identified, including CRISPR-Cas systems, eukaryote-like repeat proteins, and secondary metabolite gene clusters. Chloroflexi symbionts were visualized in the sponge extracellular matrix at ultrastructural resolution by the fluorescence in situ hybridization-correlative light and electron microscopy (FISH-CLEM) method. Carbo- hydrate degradation potential was reported previously for “Candidatus Poribacteria” and SAUL, typical symbionts of HMA sponges, and we propose here that HMA sponge symbionts collectively engage in degradation of dissolved organic matter, both labile and recalcitrant. Thus, sponge microbes may not only provide nutrients to the sponge host, but they may also contribute to dissolved organic matter (DOM) recycling and primary productivity in reef ecosystems via a pathway termed the sponge loop.

I M P O R T A N C E Chloroflexi represent a widespread, yet enigmatic bacterial phylum with few cultivated members. We used metagenomic and single-cell genomic ap- proaches to characterize the functional gene repertoire of Chloroflexi symbionts in marine sponges. The results of this study suggest clade-specific metabolic specializa- tion and that Chloroflexi symbionts have the genomic potential for dissolved organic matter (DOM) degradation from seawater. Considering the abundance and domi- nance of sponges in many benthic environments, we predict that the role of sponge symbionts in biogeochemical cycles is larger than previously thought.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS. We acknowledge Laura Rix and Lucia Pita Galan for many insightful discussions on sponge ecology and Sebastian M. Markert and Christian Stigloher at University of Wuerzburg for help with FISH-CLEM. This study was supported by DFG (CRC1182-TPB1) and European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation program grants (679849 SponGES). M.T.J. was supported by a grant of the German Excellence Initiative to the Graduate School of Life Sciences, University of Wuerzburg. The funders had no role in study design, data collection and interpretation, or the decision to submit the work for publication.


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SponGES – Deep-sea Sponge Grounds Ecosystems of the North Atlantic: an integrated approach towards their preservation and sustainable exploitation 679849
European Commission