Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Sponges recycle carbon to give life to coral reefs

Coral reefs support some of the most diverse ecosystems on the planet, yet they thrive in a marine desert. So how do reefs sustain their thriving populations?

Marine biologist Fleur Van Duyl from the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research is fascinated by the energy budgets that support coral reefs in this impoverished environment.

According to van Duyl's former student, Jasper De Goeij, Halisarca caerulea sponges grow in the deep dark cavities beneath reefs, and 90% of their diet is composed of dissolved organic carbon, which is inedible for most other reef residents. But when De Goeij measured the amount of carbon that the brightly coloured sponges consumed he found that they consume half of their own weight each day, yet they never grew. What were the sponges doing with the carbon?

Were the sponges really consuming that much carbon, or was there a problem with De Goeij's measurements? He had to find out where the carbon was going to back up his measurements and publishes his discovery that sponges have one of the fastest cell division rates ever measured, and instead of growing they discard the cells. Essentially, the sponges recycle carbon that would otherwise be lost to the reef. De Goeij publishes his discovery on November 13 2009 in The Journal of Experimental Biology at

Travelling to the Dutch Antilles with his student, Anna De Kluijver, De Goeij started SCUBA diving with the sponges to find out how much carbon they consume. 'It is quite dark and technically difficult to work in the cavities,' explains De Goeij, but the duo collected sponges, placed them in small chambers and exposed the sponges to 5- bromo-2Œ-deoxyuridine (BrdU). 'The BrdU is only incorporated into the DNA of dividing cells,' explains De Goeij, so cells that carry the BrdU label must be dividing, or have divided, since the molecule was added to the sponge's water, and cells can only divide if they are taking up carbon. But when De Goeij returned to the Netherlands with his samples, he had problems finding the elusive label.

Discussing the BrdU detection problem with his father, biochemist Anton De Goeij, De Goeij Senior offered to introduce his son to Bert Schutte in Maastricht, who had developed a BrdU detection system for use in cancer therapy. Maybe he could help De Goeij Junior find evidence of cell division in his sponges.

Taking his samples to Jack Cleutjens's Maastricht Pathology laboratory, De Goeij was finally able to detect the BrdU label in his sponge cells. Amazingly, half of the sponge's choanocyte (filtration) cells had divided and the choanocyte's cell division cycle was a phenomenally short 5.4 hours. 'That is quicker than most bacteria divide,' exclaims De Goeij.

The sponge was able to take up the colossal amounts of organic carbon that De Goeij had measured, but where was the carbon going: the sponges weren't growing. De Goeij tested to see if the cells were dying and being lost, but he couldn't find any evidence of cell death.

Presenting his results to the Maastricht Pathology Department, someone said 'Lets look at this like a human intestine, then you should see shedding where old cells detach from the epithelia'. De Goeij knew that he had seen some loose cells, and thought that they were artefacts from cutting the samples, but when he and his Pathology Department colleagues went back and looked at the samples, De Goeij realised that choanocytes were shedding all over the place. And then De Goeij remembered the tiny piles of brown material he found next to the sponges in the aquarium every morning.

The sponges were shedding the newly divided cells, which other reef residents could now consume. 'Halisarca caerulea is the great recycler of energy for the reef by turning over energy that nobody else can use [dissolved organic carbon] into energy that everyone can use [discarded choanocytes],' explains De Goeij.


REFERENCE: De Goeij, J. M., De Kluijver, A., Van Duyl, F. C., Vacelet, J., Wijffels, R. H., De Goeij, A. F. P. M., Cleutjens, J. P. M. and Schutte, B. (2009). Cell kinetics of the marine sponge Halisarca caerulea reveal rapid cell turnover and shedding. J. Exp. Biol. 212, 3892-3900.

Full text of the article is available ON REQUEST. To obtain a copy contact Kathryn Knight, The Journal Of Experimental Biology, Cambridge, UK. Tel: +44 (0)1223 425525 or email

This article is posted on this site to give advance access to other authorised media who may wish to report on this story. Full attribution is required, and if reporting online a link to is also required. The story posted here is COPYRIGHTED. Therefore advance permission is required before any and every reproduction of each article in full. PLEASE CONTACT

Kathryn Knight | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Make way for the mini flying machines
21.03.2018 | American Chemical Society

nachricht New 4-D printer could reshape the world we live in
21.03.2018 | American Chemical Society

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Researchers at Fraunhofer monitor re-entry of Chinese space station Tiangong-1

In just a few weeks from now, the Chinese space station Tiangong-1 will re-enter the Earth's atmosphere where it will to a large extent burn up. It is possible that some debris will reach the Earth's surface. Tiangong-1 is orbiting the Earth uncontrolled at a speed of approx. 29,000 km/h.Currently the prognosis relating to the time of impact currently lies within a window of several days. The scientists at Fraunhofer FHR have already been monitoring Tiangong-1 for a number of weeks with their TIRA system, one of the most powerful space observation radars in the world, with a view to supporting the German Space Situational Awareness Center and the ESA with their re-entry forecasts.

Following the loss of radio contact with Tiangong-1 in 2016 and due to the low orbital height, it is now inevitable that the Chinese space station will...

Im Focus: Alliance „OLED Licht Forum“ – Key partner for OLED lighting solutions

Fraunhofer Institute for Organic Electronics, Electron Beam and Plasma Technology FEP, provider of research and development services for OLED lighting solutions, announces the founding of the “OLED Licht Forum” and presents latest OLED design and lighting solutions during light+building, from March 18th – 23rd, 2018 in Frankfurt a.M./Germany, at booth no. F91 in Hall 4.0.

They are united in their passion for OLED (organic light emitting diodes) lighting with all of its unique facets and application possibilities. Thus experts in...

Im Focus: Mars' oceans formed early, possibly aided by massive volcanic eruptions

Oceans formed before Tharsis and evolved together, shaping climate history of Mars

A new scenario seeking to explain how Mars' putative oceans came and went over the last 4 billion years implies that the oceans formed several hundred million...

Im Focus: Tiny implants for cells are functional in vivo

For the first time, an interdisciplinary team from the University of Basel has succeeded in integrating artificial organelles into the cells of live zebrafish embryos. This innovative approach using artificial organelles as cellular implants offers new potential in treating a range of diseases, as the authors report in an article published in Nature Communications.

In the cells of higher organisms, organelles such as the nucleus or mitochondria perform a range of complex functions necessary for life. In the networks of...

Im Focus: Locomotion control with photopigments

Researchers from Göttingen University discover additional function of opsins

Animal photoreceptors capture light with photopigments. Researchers from the University of Göttingen have now discovered that these photopigments fulfill an...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Industry & Economy
Event News

Virtual reality conference comes to Reutlingen

19.03.2018 | Event News

Ultrafast Wireless and Chip Design at the DATE Conference in Dresden

16.03.2018 | Event News

International Tinnitus Conference of the Tinnitus Research Initiative in Regensburg

13.03.2018 | Event News

Latest News

Natural enemies reduce pesticide use

21.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Make way for the mini flying machines

21.03.2018 | Life Sciences

Taming chaos: Calculating probability in complex systems

21.03.2018 | Physics and Astronomy

Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>