Chemical Defense in the Marine Sponge

natural product uses

Sponge Benificial Uses

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Article 1

Bacteria From Sponges Make New Pharmaceuticals

ScienceDaily (Sep. 7, 2007) — Thousands of interesting new compounds have been discovered inside the bodies of marine sponges according to scientists.

Over half of the bodyweight of living sea sponges -- including the sort that we use in our baths -- is made up of the many different bacteria that live inside them, in the same way that we all have bacteria living in our guts which help us to digest our food.

"Marine sponges are the most prolific and important source of new active compounds discovered in the last twenty or thirty years in our seas. We thought it likely that many of the interesting new compounds we were discovering inside sea sponges were actually being made by the bacteria inside their bodies, not the sponges themselves", says Dr Detmer Sipkema of University College Berkeley, in California, USA.

Unfortunately the scientists discovered that it is very difficult to grow these bacteria in the laboratory, as the environment inside a sponge is significantly different from conditions in the surrounding seawater. Currently, only between one in a hundred and one in a thousand types of bacteria can be cultured artificially.

"We are trying to culture the other 99% by simulating the microenvironment in the sponge where the bacteria live", says Dr Sipkema. "The next step will be to identify which bacteria are responsible for the production of the most medically interesting compounds and try to culture these on a larger scale. Most attempts to properly test these important bioactive compounds in hospital patients have failed because doctors simply cannot get enough of the products to prove that the clinical trials are effective or safe".

So far, by trying a lot of different cultivation methods, the scientists have been successful in culturing about 10% of the different sorts of bacteria that live in the sponges.

As well as their attempt to produce useful pharmaceutical compounds on a commercial scale, the researchers believe that successfully culturing these little known bacteria will give new insights into evolution.

"Marine sponges were the first multicellular organisms to evolve on earth that are still alive. This implies that the relationship between the sponge and its bacterial inhabitants may also be very old", says Dr Detmer Sipkema. "Therefore sponges are interesting to study the evolution of symbiosis, teaching us about the way different organisms have developed their mutual relationships".

Dr Sipkema is presenting the paper 'Artificial symbiosis: isolation, identification and growth of marine sponge bacterial symbionts' on Tuesday 04 September 2007 in the Physiology, Biochemistry & Molecular Genetics Group session of the 161st Meeting of the Society for General Microbiology at the University of Edinburgh, 03 - 06 September 2007.

Adapted from materials provided by Society for General Microbiology.

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Article 2

ScienceDaily (May 13, 2005) — Dutch researcher Nicole de Voogd has investigated the possibilities for rearing sea sponges in Indonesia. Some of these sponges contain substances of interest to the pharmaceutical industry. As these are increasingly difficult to obtain, there is growing interest in alternative methods of exploitation, such as rearing sponges.

For her research, De Voogd described three new species of sponges and examined the interactions of four sponge species with possible spatial competitors. She discovered that as soon as certain sponge species grow over corals, the coral develops necrotic tissue. From this she concluded that the sponges concerned produce their bioactive substances to defeat spatial competitors. This is important, as in an environment without spatial competitors, such as in a sponge culture, a lower concentration of the substances of interest to the pharmaceutical industry might be produced.

Sponge culture

The researcher tried to rear 9 of the 151 species of sponge observed but was successful with only 3 species. Although the survival rates of these species were generally very high, the growth rates were very slow and unpredictable. Moreover, the reared sponges produced less of the biologically-active substances than their natural counterparts.

Although Indonesia has a very high diversity of sponge species, and therefore a large number of biologically-active substances with pharmaceutical potential, most of the species occur in relatively low densities compared to species in temperate areas. De Voogd discovered that as a result of this low natural density, surprisingly few Indonesian species are suitable for sea rearing.

Sea rearing

Sedentary marine invertebrates such as sponges, are an important source for a large variety of biologically-active substances. Until more advanced techniques such as chemical synthesis, genetic modification and sponge cell culture are realized, rearing in the sea remains the most reliable and effective method for obtaining the large quantities of sponge biomass, necessary for developing drugs.

However, sea rearing can only be used for the large-scale production of useful substances if it can yield large quantities of the sponge species. Therefore, sea rearing would only seem to be a profitable option if the quantities of the substance needed are small or if the growth can be optimized in combination with other reared organisms.

Nicole de Voogd's research was funded by NWO.

Adapted from materials provided by Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research.

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Beneficial products derived from sponges

While marine animals and plants are most commonly used as sources of food, they also produce a vast array of chemical compounds that can be developed into products with beneficial medical and industrial uses. The sponge has many varied uses from both it structure and the natural products that it produces. Here are a few examples.

Sponge Pharmaceutical Product
Cryptotethya crypta Anti-viral drugs(herpes infections)

Anti-cancer drug (non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma)

Molecular probe- These probes are special chemical compounds that researchers can use to study important biochemical processes
 Luffariella variabilis Phospholipase A2 inhibitor

Pharmaceuticals in development

Sponge Therapuetic Benefit Clinical Status
Discodermia dissolute  Anti-cancer drug (microtubule stabilizer)  Phase I clinical trials
Lissodendoryx sp. Anti-cancer drug Advanced preclinical Trials
Jaspis sp Anti-cancer drug In development
Trachycladus Anti-fungal agent In development
Cymbastela  Anti-malarial agent In development




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Benefits of sponge natural products

Directions: After reading the attached fact sheet and the two articles from Science Daily please complete the following questions and written assignment.

  1. What Phylum do sponges belong to ?_____________________

  2. What is the term used for organisms that are attached to a substrate and can’t move around freely?___________________________

  3. How do organisms such as the sponge and the hydra reproduce?_______________

  4. What is the difference between primary and secondary metabolites? Explain using complete sentences. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  5. After reading article one what type of relationship do the sponge and the bacteria have?_______________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________

  6. What reason does the author give for this type of relationship between bacteria and sponge? _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  7. What is spatial competition and how do sponges compete?_________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  8. Why are the bacteria in sponges so hard to cultivate (grow) in a laboratory? _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  9. What is needed to hasten and make available more of these natural products of the sponge and other marine animals? _________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

  1. Consider the sheet “Beneficial products from sponges” and write a paragraph or paragraphs as to why the sponge products seem to work well in fighting cancer. You must include a brief description of cancer and its properties, the biological terms that would be used when describing cancer, and a possible explanation of why/how these natural products work in fighting cancer?

  1. Using the internet for homework find at least two more examples of sponge products being used for human benefit. Write a short summary of their organism of origin; where it is found, what pharmaceutical benefits it has, and at what stage of commercial development it currently is.

  1. Write a few paragraphs about a sponge that you have just made up, name it (these should be interesting) describe its color, where it currently inhabits, describe its methods of defense and what if any products can be produced from your sponge.