We are trying to find the biological culprit behind the 2012 Barrell Sponge (Xestospongia muta) Die Offs
A marine epidemic called “sponge orange band” (SOB) disease of the common yet iconic "barrel" reef sponge, Xestospongia muta, re-emerged on South Florida sponges in April 2012. Gross SOB symptoms appeared as bleaching, decaying and crumbling of the affected sponge tissues, followed by rapid death of the whole or most of the sponge individual. The photo below shows how the sponge was almost completely "dissolved" by this phenomenon. During this outbreak, anecdotal reports and video surveys (like those shown above) carried out by REEF-RESCUE.org found that 15- 20% of local large barrel sponges died or were adversely affected. The SOB condition has been witnessed periodically, and has been histologically described in scientific studies. However, the question remains "What is the cause of this blight and destruction?" YET TO DATE, NO CLEAR CAUSE OR PATHOGEN HAS BEEN IDENTIFIED. This condition could appear again, but with further research on the possible cause we could be better prepared to handle it.
In May 2012, our laboratory was able to collect multiple samples of diseased and healthy sponges for in depth genetic and microscopic analyses. We hypothesize that current molecular genetics biotechnologies may be able provide basic answers to what factors are possibly causing SOB.
Recent studies and breakthroughs in sequencing technologies are revealing the inner mechanisms of how our cells and bodies work. Sponges are the most primitive animal form (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sponge), but they may still educate us on fundamental biological concepts, such as the role of microbial symbioses. This project will apply lessons learned from recent symbiosis studies such as the current Human Microbiome Project (HMP)-http://www.hmpdacc.org/impacts_health/impact_health.php, which applies "high throughput" DNA sequencing methods to characterize the thousands of microbes that live in and within our bodies, often to our benefit.
For example, some bacterial species benignly live in our intestinal tracts and help digest plant materials, or provide essential vitamins that our bodies cannot produce.
These molecular biotechnology approaches can be applied to REEF studies and may indirectly help PROTECT REEFS. Coral reef ecosystems are in peril due to many threats, such as pollution, global warming and disease - http://www.nytimes.com/2012/07/14/opinion/a-world-without-coral-reefs.html?_r=1&emc=eta1. However, previous appeals to various agencies have not yet resulted in funding for this project.
Until adequate funds are obtained, the Xestospongia muta samples we have collected will remain frozen, archived and unanalyzed. Thus, this is a direct appeal for funds that will be carried out by our Marine Microbiology and Genetics Laboratory in the brand new Center of Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystems Sciences of Nova Southeastern University (NSU), in Dania Beach Florida (www.nova.edu/ocean). This is a state of the art facility with modern molecular labs to conduct the work. NSU is a non-profit university, and 100% of donations for this project will be used towards the science or the rewards related to the science.
The Number 1 goal of this project is to understand and determine the cause of SOB disease on Xestospongia muta. Funds received from this project will go to the following experimental activities:
1. To apply the latest high tech DNA sequencing methods to characterize the microbial diversity (eubacteria, archaea, eukaryotes, and viruses) which may be associated with healthy and disease Xestospongia muta sponges
2. To evaluate the effects of the disease on host physiology, Illumina HiSeq of total RNA (cDNA) will be performed on the samples representing the three physical states of the sponge (healthy, diseased, healthy sections from diseased animals). Current costs for “Next Generation” Illumina HiSeq 100 bp DNA sequencing that we will be applying, can be viewed at http://www.ibbr.umd.edu/facilities/sequencing/illumina/pricing. Almost half of the total costs of the project will be to prepare RNA libraries for each sample (N= 25).
The data will culminate in at least one peer-reviewed publication(s), thousands of new gene sequences uploaded to the public GenBank data repository: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/guide/.
3. We also aim to work closely with other local and state agency groups concerned about the welfare of reefs, such as http://research.myfwc.com/ to keep them informed of advances.
Our research team will greatly appreciate any support you can give, and will highlight and fully acknowledge your donations with the rewards we will provide upon reaching our funding goal.
For Further Reading see the following or click on the supplementary file links below:
1. Angermeier H, et al. (2011) FEMS Microbiol Ecol. 75: 218-30.
2. White, J, et al (2012) PLoS ONE 7(6): e38204. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0038204; http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0038204
3. Webster, N. S., et al (2002). Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 323:305-309.