Surprising Facts

As with other sponges, hexactinellids may be sources of pharmaceuticals, although their economic potential is largely unexploited. Humans rarely come into contact with glass sponges, and are mostly unaffected by them. In Japan, however, they are given as wedding presents and they also have surprising fibre optic properties - far superior to anything man-made!

 

Chondrocladia lyraThe Harp Sponge:
an extraordinary new species of carnivorous sponge

Bill Austin along with Welton L. Lee, Henry M Reiswig, William C. Austin, and Lonny Lundsten helped identify the Harp Sponge in 2012. Most sponges feed by straining bacteria and bits of organic material from the seawater they filter through their bodies. However, carnivorous harp sponges snare their prey—tiny crustaceans—with barbed hooks that cover the sponge's branching limbs. The harp sponge feeds by capturing tiny animals that are swept into its branches by deep-sea currents. Once the harp sponge has its prey in its clutches, it envelops the animal in a thin membrane, and then slowly begins to digest it.

 

Latrunculia (Latunculia) austini
(Chocolate Puffball Sponge)

Latrunculia austini.jpg
 

A cure for cancer?

Recently, researchers at the Medical University of South Carolina discovered that the novel biomedical compounds of the demosponge, Latrunculia (Latunculia) austini show promise for treating cancer, particularly pancreatic cancer. They collected material from deep water in the eastern Gulf of Alaska, but are now in need of more material. There are two places in BC where this sponge has been located within diving depths. Another recently discovered species of Latrunculia yielded new discorhabdin compounds that exhibit significant antiviral activity against hepatitis C virus, antimalarial activity and antimicrobial effects against several AIDS-opportunistic pathogens.

 

Euplectella aspergillum
(Venus' flower basket)

 
 
Euplectella_aspergillum_(cropped).jpg
 

a lucky Wedding gift

In Japan the skeletons of these sponges are given as good luck charms, like horseshoes, to couples getting married as they often have two tiny shrimps living in symbiosis inside the sponge’s body cavity, always a male and a female. When small, two shrimp of opposite sexes enter the sponge atrium, and, after growing to a certain size, cannot leave. They feed on material brought in by the currents produced by the sponge, and eventually reproduce. Their offspring are able to swim out of the sponge and find new sponges to take up residence in.

 
Spicules.png
 

Fibre Optic Comparisons

The spicules of the deep-sea 'glass' sponge Euplectella have remarkable fibre-optical properties, which are surprisingly similar to those of commercial telecommunication fibres — except that the spicules themselves are formed under normal ambient conditions and have some technological advantages over man-made versions. For example, this naturally made spicule lattice is crack-resistant and created in ambient temperatures giving them beneficial impurities. It has also been suggested that these sponges distribute light on the deep-sea floor. (Sundar, et al).
 

Video courtesy of Jack Cambell.

Euplectella aspergillum, also known as the "Venus flower-basket" is one of the most unique and interesting lifeforms on earth. This is a truly alien-like organism as this species of sponge has a silica exoskeleton which forms an intricate cage, held together by protein filaments only a few nanometers across.

 
2880px-Euplectella_aspergillum_HMS_Challenger_specimen.JPG
 

History

The Venus flower basket was first described by Sir Richard Owen, in 1841 in the Transactions of the Zoological Society. Sir Richard Owen was the first Director of the Natural History Museum when it moved to South Kensington and the man who coined the term “dinosaur”.

 
  Photo By Neil McDaniel

Photo By Neil McDaniel

 

Not as extinct as we thought

While dinosaurs roamed the earth, huge glass sponge reefs thrived in prehistoric seas. The reefs were thought have gone extinct over 40 million years ago, leaving only giant fossil cliffs behind that stretch across parts of Portugal, Spain and France and Germany across Eastern Europe to Romania. That was until 1987 when Dr Bill Austin and a team of Canadian scientists discovered 9,000 year-old living glass sponge reefs on British Columbia’s north coast.