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Did you know that one of the most abundant marine food sources is invisible, like sugar dissolved in a cup of tea? However, not many organisms can efficiently feed on dissolved organic matter (DOM). Sponges and free-living bacteria are exceptions: they feast on DOM, and they make it available to others along the food chain. But do sponges owe this ability to the symbiotic bacteria inside their bodies?

On nutrient-poor coral reefs, sponges such as this coral-excavating species (dark brown patch) benefit from feasting on organic matter dissolved in the surrounding seawater. Photo: Michelle Achlatis, Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef

An international research team, including Dr Jasper de Goeij of the FAME-department of IBED zoomed in to sponge cells to track if, and how, they take up DOM. They found that specialized sponge cells effectively 'drink' DOM, independently of the bacterial symbionts that they host!

Recently an article about this research was published in Proceedings of the Royal Society B:

Single-cell visualization indicates direct role of sponge host in uptake of dissolved organic matter

Authors: Michelle Achlatis1,2,3, Mathieu Pernice4, Kathryn Green5, Jasper M. de Goeij6,

Paul Guagliardo7, Matthew R. Kilburn7, Ove Hoegh-Guldberg1,2,3 and Sophie Dove1,2


Dr. ir. J.M. (Jasper) de Goeij

Assistant Professor of Tropical Marine biology