MEPS 232:305-309 (2002)  -  doi:10.3354/meps232305

A spongin-boring α-proteobacterium is the etiological agent of disease in the Great Barrier Reef sponge Rhopaloeides odorabile

Nicole S. Webster1,2,*, Andrew P. Negri1, Richard I. Webb3, Russell T. Hill4

1Australian Institute of Marine Science, Townsville, Queensland 4810, Australia
2Department of Microbiology, James Cook University, Townsville, Queensland 4810, Australia
3Centre for Microscopy and Microanalysis, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Queensland 4072, Australia
4Center of Marine Biotechnology, University of Maryland, Baltimore, Maryland 21223, USA

ABSTRACT: High levels of mortality in the Mediterranean bath sponge industry have raised concerns for the future of sponge farms. Healthy sponges feed predominantly on bacteria, and many harbour a wide diversity of inter- and extra-cellular symbiotic bacteria. Here we describe the first isolation and description of a pathogenic bacterium from an infected marine sponge. Microbiological examination of tissue necrosis in the Great Barrier Reef sponge Rhopaloeides odorabile resulted in isolation of the bacterial strain NW4327. Sponges infected with strain NW4327 exhibited high levels of external tissue necrosis, and the strain was re-isolated from infected sponges. A single morphotype, which had burrowed through the collagenous spongin fibres causing severe necrosis, was observed microscopically. Strain NW4327 was capable of degrading commercial preparations of azo-collagen, providing further evidence of its involvement in spongin fibre necrosis. Strain NW4327 disrupted the microbial community associated with R. odorabile and was able to infect and kill healthy sponge tissue. 16S rRNA sequence analysis revealed that strain NW4327 is a novel member of the α proteobacteria.


KEY WORDS: Sponge · Disease · Pathogen · Spongin · Coral reef


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