Molecular community profiling reveals impacts of time, space, and disease status on the bacterial community associated with the Caribbean sponge Aplysina cauliformis

Authors

  • Julie B. Olson,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, AL, USA
    • Correspondence: Julie B. Olson, Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alabama, 1325 SEC Bldg., Campus Box 870344, Tuscaloosa, AL 35487, USA. Tel.: 205 348 2633; fax: 205 348 1786; e-mail: jolson@as.ua.edu

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  • Robert W. Thacker,

    1. Department of Biology, University of Alabama at Birmingham, Birmingham, AL, USA
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  • Deborah J. Gochfeld

    1. National Center for Natural Products Research, University of Mississippi, University, MS, USA
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Abstract

Reports of marine sponge diseases have increased in recent years, but few etiologic agents have been identified. Aplysina red band syndrome (ARBS), a condition observed in the Caribbean sponge Aplysina cauliformis, is characterized by a rust-colored leading margin. Culture-independent methods (terminal restriction fragment length polymorphism and clone library analyses) were used to assess bacterial communities associated with healthy and ARBS-affected sponges from two locations over 2 years. Although the bacterial communities associated with healthy and ARBS-affected sponges were significantly different, the sponges maintained a core bacterial community across space, time, and health status. Ten terminal restriction fragments were shown to change significantly between sponge health conditions, with six increasing in abundance with disease and four decreasing. The prevalence of the photosymbiont Synechococcus spongiarum decreased with ARBS infection, suggesting a functional consequence of disease. After cultivating a red-pigmented Leptolyngbya strain from ARBS lesions, transmission studies were conducted to determine whether this organism was the ARBS pathogen. Despite significantly increased abundance of Leptolyngbya spp. in diseased sponges, signs of ARBS were not observed in healthy sponges following 24 days of contact with the cultured strain. Additional work with this model system is needed to increase our understanding of the dynamics of marine diseases.

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