MEPS 324:139-150 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/meps324139

Identification of bacteria associated with a disease affecting the marine sponge Ianthella basta in New Britain, Papua New Guinea

James M. Cervino1,*, Kathryn Winiarski-Cervino2, Shawn W. Polson3, Thomas Goreau4, Garriet W. Smith5

1Department of Biological Sciences, Pace University, 1 Pace Plaza, New York, 10038, USA
2The New York Academy of Medicine, New York, 10029–5293, USA
3Medical University of South Carolina, Charleston, South Carolina, 29425, USA
4Global Coral Reef Alliance, 37 Pleasant St., Cambridge, Massachusetts, 02139, USA
5Department of Biology and Geology, University of South Carolina, Aiken, South Carolina, 29801, USA

ABSTRACT: Ianthella basta marine sponges in Kimbe Bay, west New Britain, Papua New Guinea were affected by a disease, and exhibited high mortality, between 1996 and 2000. These fan-shaped sponges were mottled with brown lesions, rotted tissue and large holes. The decayed tissue was surrounded by brown biofilm that smothered the ostia openings. Since 1996, I. basta suffered its highest mortality at 3 sites within 16–20 km of the shore of west New Britain. No mortality was observed at 3 other locations further from shore (between 27–41 km), nor at 10 sites located more than 41 km from shore outside of Kimbe Bay in deeper waters, nor at the site nearest to shore. Comparison of the carbon source utilization patterns of 99 bacterial isolates from all healthy and diseased sponges revealed 5 species of bacteria specifically present in diseased I. basta. These bacteria were not present in healthy sponge samples. Bacteria isolated from affected sponges and inoculated onto healthy sponges caused disease signs similar to those in field specimens. The 16S rRNA genes from these bacteria were sequenced and found to correspond with 2 species of Bacillus and 3 species of Pseudomonas. The closest relatives of these bacteria based on BLAST searches included many terrestrial pathogens and species that are used as pathogens against insects and fungi in integrated pest control management. The bacteria causing disease in I. basta may thus originate from pesticides applied to agricultural land, predominantly oil palm plantations, in west New Britain. The possibility that these bacteria can pass virulence factors to marine bacteria through horizontal gene transfer needs to be investigated, as this may have unexpected impacts on marine ecosystems.


KEY WORDS: Sponge disease · 16S rRNA · Pseudomonas · Bacillus · Pesticide · Ianthella basta


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