ISME J 11(11) , 2465-2478 (Nov 2017)
Marine sponges are ancient metazoans that are populated by distinct and highly diverse microbial communities. In order to obtain deeper insights into the functional gene repertoire of the Mediterranean sponge Aplysina aerophoba, we combined Illumina short-read and PacBio long-read sequencing followed by un-targeted metagenomic binning. We identified a total of 37 high-quality bins representing 11 bacterial phyla and two candidate phyla. Statistical comparison of symbiont genomes with selected reference genomes revealed a significant enrichment of genes related to bacterial defense (restriction-modification systems, toxin-antitoxin systems) as well as genes involved in host colonization and extracellular matrix utilization in sponge symbionts. A within-symbionts genome comparison revealed a nutritional specialization of at least two symbiont guilds, where one appears to metabolize carnitine and the other sulfated polysaccharides, both of which are abundant molecules in the sponge extracellular matrix. A third guild of symbionts may be viewed as nutritional generalists that perform largely the same metabolic pathways but lack such extraordinary numbers of the relevant genes. This study characterizes the genomic repertoire of sponge symbionts at an unprecedented resolution and it provides greater insights into the molecular mechanisms underlying microbial-sponge symbiosis.