Marine sponges play host to an incredible diversity of microbial symbionts that can account for up to 35% of their hosts biomass. These microbes are thought to carry out a myriad of functions that support their host’s health and ecology, such as the transformation of carbon, nitrogen, and sulfur, as well as providing essential vitamins and amino acids to the host. Whilst our genomic understanding of sponge symbionts has increased dramatically in recent years, attempts to grow sponge symbionts in the laboratory have almost universally failed. With support from the Gordon and Betty Moore Foundation, we are developing a microscale isolation system (SYMBIO-CHIP) that will enable the first in situ cultivation and recovery of recalcitrant sponge symbionts. Macroscale in situ isolation chips (e.g. Ichip) have been previously used to recover ‘uncultivable’ microorganisms from seawater and soil. We aim to refine this approach by designing and fabricating a miniaturised platform that will segregate individual symbiont cells into discrete microscale chambers surrounded by semi-permeable diffusion membranes. The SYMBIO-CHIP will be constructed at a scale that will allow direct insertion into host tissue to provide the sponge symbionts with host nutrients and co-factors required for their growth and metabolism.

Chief Investigator: Prof. Nicole Webster
University of Washington:
Prof. Albert Folch (Principal Investigator), Dr. Ethan Lockhart (Research Fellow)
Australian Institute of Marine Science:
Dr. Emmanuelle Botte (Experimental Scientist)


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University of Queensland
Brisbane, Australia

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