Background: The marine sponge Tethya wilhelma and the freshwater sponge Ephydatia muelleri are emerging model organisms to study evolution, gene regulation, development, and physiology in non-bilaterian animal systems. Thus far, functional methods (i.e., loss or gain of function) for these organisms have not been available.
Results: We show that soaking developing freshwater sponges in double-stranded RNA and/or feeding marine and freshwater sponges bacteria expressing double-stranded RNA can lead to RNA interference and reduction of targeted transcript levels. These methods, first utilized in C. elegans, have been adapted for the development and feeding style of easily cultured marine and freshwater poriferans. We demonstrate phenotypic changes result from 'knocking down' expression of the actin gene.
Conclusion: This technique provides an easy, efficient loss-of-function manipulation for developmental and gene regulatory studies in these important non-bilaterian animals.