Heterotrophy in the earliest gut: a single-cell view of heterotrophic carbon and nitrogen assimilation in sponge-microbe symbioses

Rix, LauraRibes, Marta Coma, Rafael Jahn, Martin T.Goeij, Jasper M. deVan Ovelen, DickEscrig, StéphaneMeibom. A.Hentschel, Ute.  The ISME Journal : doi:10.1038/s41396-020-0706-3 (2020)  DIGITAL CSIC

Sponges are the oldest known extant animal-microbe symbiosis. These ubiquitous benthic animals play an important role in marine ecosystems in the cycling of dissolved organic matter (DOM), the largest source of organic matter on Earth. The conventional view on DOM cycling through microbial processing has been challenged by the interaction between this efficient filter-feeding host and its diverse and abundant microbiome. Here we quantify, for the first time, the role of host cells and microbial symbionts in sponge heterotrophy. We combined stable isotope probing and nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry to compare the processing of different sources of DOM (glucose, amino acids, algal-produced) and particulate organic matter (POM) by a high-microbial abundance (HMA) and low-microbial abundance (LMA) sponge with single-cell resolution. Contrary to common notion, we found that both microbial symbionts and host choanocyte (i.e. filter) cells and were active in DOM uptake. Although all DOM sources were assimilated by both sponges, higher microbial biomass in the HMA sponge corresponded to an increased capacity to process a greater variety of dissolved compounds. Nevertheless, in situ feeding data demonstrated that DOM was the primary carbon source for both the LMA and HMA sponge, accounting for ~90% of their heterotrophic diets. Microbes accounted for the majority (65–87%) of DOM assimilated by the HMA sponge (and ~60% of its total heterotrophic diet) but <5% in the LMA sponge. We propose that the evolutionary success of sponges is due to their different strategies to exploit the vast reservoir of DOM in the ocean.