Gene correlation networks reveal the transcriptomic response to elevated nitrogen in a photosynthetic sponge

Heidi M. Luter, Carly D. Kenkel, Marko Terzin, Tyler Peirce, Patrick W. Laffy, Karen Gibb, Nicole S. Webster

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    Nutrient levels in coastal environments have been increasing globally due to elevated inputs of sewage and terrigenous sediments carrying fertilizers. Yet, despite their immense filtering capacities, marine sponges appear to be less affected by elevated nutrients than sympatric benthic organisms, such as corals. While the molecular-level stress response of sponges to elevated seawater temperatures and other toxicants has been defined, this study represents the first global gene expression analysis of how sponges respond to elevated nitrogen. Gene correlation network analysis revealed that sponge gene modules, coded by colours, became either highly upregulated (Blue) or downregulated (Turquoise, Black, Brown) as nitrogen treatment levels increased. Gene Ontology enrichment analysis of the different modules revealed genes involved in cell signalling, immune response and flagella motility were affected by increasing nitrogen levels. Notably, a decrease in the regulation of NF-kappaB signalling and an increase in protein degradation was identified, which is comparable to metabolic pathways associated with the sponge thermal stress response. These results highlight that Cymbastela stipitata can rapidly respond to changes in the external environment and identifies pathways that probably contribute to the ability of C. stipitata to tolerate short-term nutrient pulses.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1452-1462
    Number of pages11
    JournalMolecular Ecology
    Issue number8
    Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020


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