Marine sponges host a remarkably dense and diverse community of microbial symbionts that are critical to host health. However, the complexity of sponge microbiomes has hampered in-depth characterization of sponge symbiosis. Further, uncoordinated international efforts to characterise symbiosis in a multitude of sponge species has precluded the establishment of a wide-spread model species. This research project therefore focuses on establishing the Great Barrier Reef sponge Ianthella basta as a model species for sponge symbiosis research. In contrast to most sponge species, I. basta harbours only three well-characterised dominant microbial symbionts, although it also plays host to the holuthurian Synaptula lamberti, the ploychaete Haplosyllis basticola and an unidentified goby. We aim to assess the establishment and maintenance of microbial symbiosis in I. basta, visualize physiological interactions between host and symbionts, and assess holobiont stability under future climate conditions. To this end, we are using state-of-the-art molecular techniques including next generation sequencing, metaproteomics, and stable isotope probing to determine who eats what, where and when in this ancient symbiosis.

Chief Investigator: Prof. Nicole Webster
PhD student: Ms. Pam Engelberts
University of Vienna:
Prof. Michael Wagner (Principal Investigator), Dr. Bettina Glasl (Research Fellow)


Australian Centre for Ecogenomics
Level 5, Molecular Biosciences Bldg
University of Queensland
Brisbane, Australia

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