Meta-transcriptomic comparison of two sponge holobionts feeding on coral- and macroalgal-dissolved organic matter.


Sara Campana, Ana Riesgo, Evelien Jongepier, Janina Fuss, Gerard Muyzer, Jasper M de Goeij

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Sponge holobionts (i.e., the host and its associated microbiota) play a key role in the cycling of dissolved organic matter (DOM) in marine ecosystems. On coral reefs, an ecological shift from coral-dominated to algal-dominated ecosystems is currently occurring. Given that benthic corals and macroalgae release different types of DOM, in different abundances and with different bioavailability to sponge holobionts, it is important to understand how the metabolic activity of the host and associated microbiota change in response to the exposure to both DOM sources. Here, we look at the differential gene expression of two sponge holobionts 6 hours after feeding on naturally sourced coral- and macroalgal-DOM using RNA sequencing and meta-transcriptomic analysis.


We found a slight, but significant differential gene expression in the comparison between the coral- and macroalgal-DOM treatments in both the high microbial abundance sponge Plakortis angulospiculatus and the low microbial abundance sponge Haliclona vansoesti. In the hosts, processes that regulate immune response, signal transduction, and metabolic pathways related to cell proliferation were elicited. In the associated microbiota carbohydrate metabolism was upregulated in both treatments, but coral-DOM induced further lipid and amino acids biosynthesis, while macroalgal-DOM caused a stress response. These differences could be driven by the presence of distinct organic macronutrients in the two DOM sources and of small pathogens or bacterial virulence factors in the macroalgal-DOM.


This work provides two new sponge meta-transcriptomes and a database of putative genes and genetic pathways that are involved in the differential processing of coral- versus macroalgal-DOM as food source to sponges with high and low abundances of associated microbes. These pathways include carbohydrate metabolism, signaling pathways, and immune responses. However, the differences in the meta-transcriptomic responses of the sponge holobionts after 6 hours of feeding on the two DOM sources were small. Longer-term responses to both DOM sources should be assessed to evaluate how the metabolism and the ecological function of sponges will be affected when reefs shift from coral towards algal dominance.