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Vargas, Sergio; Leiva, Laura; Eitel, Michael; Curdt, Franziska; Rohde, Sven; Arnold, Christopher; Nickel, Michael; Schupp, Peter; Orsi, William D; Adamska, Maja; Wörheide, Gert; Crandall, Keith (2023): Body-Plan Reorganization in a Sponge Correlates with Microbiome Change. Molecular Biology and Evolution, 40 (6). ISSN 0737-4038

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Mounting evidence suggests that animals and their associated bacteria interact via intricate molecular mechanisms, and it is hypothesized that disturbances to the microbiome influence animal development. Here, we show that the loss of a key photosymbiont (i.e., bleaching) upon shading correlates with a stark body-plan reorganization in the common aquarium cyanosponge Lendenfeldia chondrodes. The morphological changes observed in shaded sponges include the development of a thread-like morphology that contrasts with the flattened, foliose morphology of control specimens. The microanatomy of shaded sponges markedly differed from that of control sponges, with shaded specimens lacking a well-developed cortex and choanosome. Also, the palisade of polyvacuolar gland-like cells typical in control specimens was absent in shaded sponges. The morphological changes observed in shaded specimens are coupled with broad transcriptomic changes and include the modulation of signaling pathways involved in animal morphogenesis and immune response, such as the Wnt, transforming growth factor β (TGF-β), and TLR–ILR pathways. This study provides a genetic, physiological, and morphological assessment of the effect of microbiome changes on sponge postembryonic development and homeostasis. The correlated response of the sponge host to the collapse of the population of symbiotic cyanobacteria provides evidence for a coupling between the sponge transcriptomic state and the state of its microbiome. This coupling suggests that the ability of animals to interact with their microbiomes and respond to microbiome perturbations has deep evolutionary origins in this group.

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