Pyrosequencing reveals highly diverse and species-specific microbial communities in sponges from the Red Sea

ISME J. 2011 Apr;5(4):650-64. doi: 10.1038/ismej.2010.165. Epub 2010 Nov 18.


Marine sponges are associated with a remarkable array of microorganisms. Using a tag pyrosequencing technology, this study was the first to investigate in depth the microbial communities associated with three Red Sea sponges, Hyrtios erectus, Stylissa carteri and Xestospongia testudinaria. We revealed highly diverse sponge-associated bacterial communities with up to 1000 microbial operational taxonomic units (OTUs) and richness estimates of up to 2000 species. Altogether, 26 bacterial phyla were detected from the Red Sea sponges, 11 of which were absent from the surrounding sea water and 4 were recorded in sponges for the first time. Up to 100 OTUs with richness estimates of up to 300 archaeal species were revealed from a single sponge species. This is by far the highest archaeal diversity ever recorded for sponges. A non-negligible proportion of unclassified reads was observed in sponges. Our results demonstrated that the sponge-associated microbial communities remained highly consistent in the same sponge species from different locations, although they varied at different degrees among different sponge species. A significant proportion of the tag sequences from the sponges could be assigned to one of the sponge-specific clusters previously defined. In addition, the sponge-associated microbial communities were consistently divergent from those present in the surrounding sea water. Our results suggest that the Red Sea sponges possess highly sponge-specific or even sponge-species-specific microbial communities that are resistant to environmental disturbance, and much of their microbial diversity remains to be explored.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Archaea / classification*
  • Archaea / genetics
  • Archaea / isolation & purification
  • Bacteria / classification*
  • Bacteria / genetics
  • Bacteria / isolation & purification
  • Biodiversity*
  • Indian Ocean
  • Phylogeny
  • Porifera / microbiology*
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / classification
  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S / genetics
  • Seawater / microbiology
  • Sequence Analysis, DNA
  • Species Specificity


  • RNA, Ribosomal, 16S