There's more to sponges than meets the eye
Sponges hold more than just dirty water. When we think of sponges, we probably picture mopping. But sponges from the ocean are the most primitive of multi-cellular animals, and though they contain no tissues or organs, they produce chemicals that may lead to bioactive compounds.
Sponges (porifera) produce a variety of bioactive substances, which protect them from predators and prevent overgrowth. Sponges form symbiotic relationships with other organisms such as fungi, bacteria and micro algae, the metabolism of which gives rise to many interesting substances, a number of substances, which can benefit humans. An anti-herpes substance is currently being developed, sponge collagen can be used in creams and anti-cancer substances have also been identified.
Sorbicillacton A is an anti-leukaemia substance derived from Penicillium chrysogenum, a fungus discovered in the Mediterranean sponge Ircinia fasciculata. Sorbicillacton A can be produced in economically viable quantities and has entered pre-clinical testing. However, each newly identified substance presents the researchers with a problem. The amounts obtained are very small. That's where biotechnology enters the scene. Researchers are cultivating suitable sponge species in aquaria, analysing them and transferring them into cell cultures.
Researchers make use of an unusual phenomenon. Emerged in calcium and magnesium-free seawater, the sponges decompose into single cells, which reconstitute themselves into a sponge in seawater. Under certain conditions, these single cells form small spheres known as primmorphs, which can be cultivated in petri dishes. Metabolic processes of the sponges are very interesting. Following the separation and purification of the components, the producer of certain substances -- either the sponge or one of its symbiotic partners -- can be more easily identified. If the sponge cells are identified as the producer, the researchers try to transfer the cell cultivation into large-scale production for further research (bio assays). The researchers carry out molecular biological examinations (genomics, proteomics), elucidating the metabolism of the sponges and investigating the possibility of being able to produce substances of interest synthetically.
S. Satish Madhusudhan Rao M.Sc.(Final) Biotechnology A.N.U.
Send this article to Friends by