A disease-like syndrome is currently affecting a large percentage of the Ianthella basta populations from the Great Barrier Reef and central Torres Strait. Symptoms of the syndrome include discolored, necrotic spots leading to tissue degradation, exposure of the skeletal fibers, and disruption of the choanocyte chambers. To ascertain the role of microbes in the disease process, a comprehensive comparison of bacteria, viruses, fungi, and other eukaryotes was performed in healthy and diseased sponges using multiple techniques. A low diversity of microbes was observed in both healthy and diseased sponge communities, with all sponges dominated by an Alphaproteobacteria, a Gammaproteobacteria, and a group I crenarchaeota. Bacterial cultivation, community analysis by denaturing gradient gel electrophoresis (Bacteria and Eukarya), sequencing of 16S rRNA clone libraries (Bacteria and Archaea), and direct visual assessment by electron microscopy failed to reveal any putative pathogens. In addition, infection assays could not establish the syndrome in healthy sponges even after direct physical contact with affected tissue. These results suggest that microbes are not responsible for the formation of brown spot lesions and necrosis in I. basta.
Luter, H., Whalan, S., & Webster, N. (2010). Exploring the Role of Microorganisms in the Disease-Like Syndrome Affecting the Sponge Ianthella basta. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 76(17), 5736-5744. https://doi.org/10.1128/AEM.00653-10