Geodia barretti is a marine cold-water sponge harbouring high numbers of microorganisms. Significant rates of nitrification have been observed in this sponge, indicating a substantial contribution to nitrogen turnover in marine environments with high sponge cover. In order to get closer insights into the phylogeny and function of the active microbial community and the interaction with its host G. barretti, a metatranscriptomic approach was employed, using the simultaneous analysis of rRNA and mRNA. Of the 262 298 RNA-tags obtained by pyrosequencing, 92% were assigned to ribosomal RNA (ribo-tags). A total of 109 325 SSU rRNA ribo-tags revealed a detailed picture of the community, dominated by group SAR202 of Chloroflexi, candidate phylum Poribacteria and Acidobacteria, which was different in its composition from that obtained in clone libraries prepared form the same samples. Optimized assembly strategies allowed the reconstruction of full-length rRNA sequences from the short ribo-tags for more detailed phylogenetic studies of the dominant taxa. Cells of several phyla were visualized by FISH analyses for confirmation. Of the remaining 21 325 RNA-tags, 10 023 were assigned to mRNA-tags, based on similarities to genes in the databases. A wide range of putative functional gene transcripts from over 10 different phyla were identified among the bacterial mRNA-tags. The most abundant mRNAs were those encoding key metabolic enzymes of nitrification from ammonia-oxidizing archaea as well as candidate genes involved in related processes. Our analysis demonstrates the potential and limits of using a combined rRNA and mRNA approach to explore the microbial community profile, phylogenetic assignments and metabolic activities of a complex, but little explored microbial community.
© 2012 Society for Applied Microbiology and Blackwell Publishing Ltd.