Novel sponge-associated microbes with high potential as sources of bioactive compounds: Cultivation and characterization

Discovery of new pharmaceuticals remains a major challenge. Marine sponges and their microorganisms produce interesting metabolites. Application of novel cultivation techniques combined with ‘omics’ information could lead in exploiting their biotechnological potential.

Marine sponges are considered as the most prolific reservoir of natural products, yielding pharmaceutically interesting compounds. Discovery and development of new types of compounds of biomedical importance have become top priority in the combat against certain global health issues. Marine bio-discovery has shifted its focus towards sponge-associated microbes as they are suspected to be the actual producers of these important metabolites. However, the limited success in the in vitro cultivation of sponge-associated microbes remains a major bottleneck in this field. A promising strategy to unravel their biotechnological potential is the application of novel cultivation techniques coupled with the valuable information offered by the ‘omics’ methods. Nevertheless, actual examples of attempts to link meta-omics with microbial cultivation are scarce.

Research Objectives

To address this gap, we currently explore the genome of metabolically interesting sponge-derived isolates already available in the MIB strain collection. Our next step is to investigate the holobiont of a cold-water sponge of the N. Atlantic deep-sea (Geodia barretti), a known source of a wide range of secondary metabolites with important pharmaceutical properties. Life under extreme conditions presupposes the development of certain unique adaptation mechanisms. We hypothesize that this investigation will elucidate novel microorganisms and molecules.

Ultimate goal of this study is the generation of a strain collection of novel marine microorganisms with high potential of producing pharmaceutically promising bioactive compounds.

Scientific Approach

We will combine novel high-throughput cultivation strategies (e.g. microcultivation and microprinting on culture chips) with knowledge derived from state-of-the-art ‘omics’ methods. Metagenomics, genomics and metatranscriptomics will provide insights into biosynthetic pathways related to the primary (special nutrients) and secondary (bioactive compounds) metabolism of the sponge-associated microbes that will facilitate the design of cultivation experiments.