Sponge cell aggregation: Checkpoints in development indicate a high level of organismal complexity

Dafne Eerkes-Medrano, Colette J. Feehan, Sally P. Leys

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Scopus citations


Studies of regeneration provide insight across many scales of animal biology from the processes of cellular communication to the ecology of whole populations. Sponges are highly regenerative animals, with studies showing adults can both recover large portions of their body after predation or damage due to storms, and even reform whole individuals, via an aggregation stage, from dissociated tissues. While sponges are clearly highly regenerative, few studies actually show dissociated cells forming functional individuals. As sponges often serve as model organisms for studying the development and function of traits in metazoans, determining the universality and mechanics of their regeneration potential is important. We tested the capacity of members of seven sponge species from temperate freshwater and marine environments, from a range of taxonomic positions, and with different habits, to form functional sponges after dissociation. Development to a functional sponge progressed through a series of checkpoints: the sorting of cells and removal of debris; adhesion to a substrate and differentiation of cells; organization of cells into tissues; and regionalization of tissues. Two of the seven species tested, Spongilla lacustris and Haliclona cf. permollis, progressed through all four checkpoints, while the remaining five species progressed to various levels of development before aggregates disintegrated. Our findings highlight three important conclusions: (1) The ability of aggregates to differentiate into functional sponges is not as widespread as previously thought; (2) The species-specific ability of aggregates to develop to functional sponges appears to be an adaptive trait; and (3) The progression of development in aggregates through checkpoints, which in later development involves formation of tissues and regionalization of tissues, highlights the complexity of the sponge body plan and suggests fundamental rules in development shared across metazoans.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalInvertebrate Biology
Issue number1
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2015


  • Cell lines
  • Development
  • Porifera
  • Regeneration
  • Stem cells


Dive into the research topics of 'Sponge cell aggregation: Checkpoints in development indicate a high level of organismal complexity'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this