According to a recent study published in the journal Current Biology, sea sponges pick up DNA in their tissues from other living creatures such as fish, seals as they filter feed.
In case you didn’t know, sea sponges can filter up to 10,000 liters of water on a daily basis. The researchers expect that the latest findings will help others to monitor biodiversity in the ocean in the coming years. In a statement, Stefano Mariani, lead author of the paper said, “Sponges are ideal sampling units because you find them everywhere and in every aquatic habitat, including freshwater. Also, they’re not very selective filter-feeders, they don’t run away, and they don’t get hurt by sampling – you can just grab a piece, and they will regenerate nicely.”
During the course of the research, the scientists were able to identify 31 different species from the genetic samples they collected from Antarctic and Mediterranean waters. The researchers revealed that although most of these species were fishes, one sponge sample included DNA from seals and penguins.
The recent discoveries can have huge impact in the field in the coming years. At the moment, machines with large water-sampling capabilities are used to collect DNA for similar purposes. However, the latest discovery reveals that the natural samplers can be similarly effective for similar research purposes. Especially given bringing machines in certain regions may not be viable in all scenarios.
“If you want to study an endangered species of sawfish or a manatee in a mangrove forest in Mozambique, you can’t go there with massive robots. You have to use a very low-tech approach.,” Mariani continues.
“I am hopeful that this method will prove itself to be useful. It’s the quintessential environmentally friendly biodiversity assessment tool.”