Lifestyle of sponge symbiont phages by host prediction and correlative microscopy

ISME J. 2021 Jul;15(7):2001-2011. doi: 10.1038/s41396-021-00900-6. Epub 2021 Feb 18.


Bacteriophages (phages) are ubiquitous elements in nature, but their ecology and role in animals remains little understood. Sponges represent the oldest known extant animal-microbe symbiosis and are associated with dense and diverse microbial consortia. Here we investigate the tripartite interaction between phages, bacterial symbionts, and the sponge host. We combined imaging and bioinformatics to tackle important questions on who the phage hosts are and what the replication mode and spatial distribution within the animal is. This approach led to the discovery of distinct phage-microbe infection networks in sponge versus seawater microbiomes. A new correlative in situ imaging approach ('PhageFISH-CLEM') localised phages within bacterial symbiont cells, but also within phagocytotically active sponge cells. We postulate that the phagocytosis of free virions by sponge cells modulates phage-bacteria ratios and ultimately controls infection dynamics. Prediction of phage replication strategies indicated a distinct pattern, where lysogeny dominates the sponge microbiome, likely fostered by sponge host-mediated virion clearance, while lysis dominates in seawater. Collectively, this work provides new insights into phage ecology within sponges, highlighting the importance of tripartite animal-phage-bacterium interplay in holobiont functioning. We anticipate that our imaging approach will be instrumental to further understanding of viral distribution and cellular association in animal hosts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bacteriophages* / genetics
  • Life Style
  • Microbiota*
  • Microscopy
  • Porifera*
  • Symbiosis