Time-lapse footage captures deep-sea sponges “sneezing” to remove waste and stay clean

Time-lapse footage of the Indo-Pacific sponge Chelonaplysilla sp.  sneezing.

Time-lapse footage of the Indo-Pacific sponge Chelonaplysilla sp. sneezing.Current Biology/Kornder et al

  • Scientists captured footage of sea sponges sneezing to expel unwanted material, in a new study.

  • Sneezing is a mechanism that sponges developed to keep themselves clean, the researchers say.

  • A sponge sneeze takes about half an hour to complete.

Sea sponges, among the oldest living creatures, release what looks like a deep-sea “sneeze” to filter out waste, researchers found in a new study. Using time-lapse video, the researchers captured the behavior, which could help them better understand how sponges evolved.

“Our data suggest that sneezing is an adaptation that sponges evolved to keep themselves clean,” Jasper de Goeij, a marine biologist at the University of Amsterdam and author of the new paper, said in a press release. Sea sponges are simple multicellular creatures without brains, dating back about half a billion years.

In a study published in the journal Current Biology on Wednesday, researchers recorded two species of sponges – the Caribbean Aplysina archeri, also known as a stove pipe sponge, and a species of the genus Chelonaplysilla, found in the Indo-Pacific – that escaped. powerful sneezes by contracting the whole body.

“Let’s be clear: Sponges don’t sneeze like humans do,” de Goeij said in the press release, adding that a sponge sneeze takes about half an hour to complete. “But both sponges and human sneezes exist as a waste disposal mechanism,” he said.

Sea sponges are filter feeders, meaning they capture particles such as plankton and bacteria from the water for nourishment. However, a sponge’s pores can become clogged with muck they don’t eat. Scientists found that sponges use a sneezing mechanism, which has been known in the field for years, to get rid of material they cannot digest.

A sponge is covered with tiny, chimney-like spores called ostium, through which water can pass. In the videos shared by researchers, these water intakes slowly release waste-containing slime, which then collects on the sponge’s surface. Sponges occasionally pull together in slow sneezes to get rid of the unwanted material.

A sponge’s trash can be a fish’s treasure. In the study, researchers observed fish and other animals feeding on the sponge’s newly sneezed mucus.

“Some organic material exists in the water around the coral reef, but most of it is not concentrated enough for other animals to eat. Sponges transform this material into edible slime,” Niklas Kornder, co-author and PhD researcher in de Goeij’s research. group, says a press release.

Researchers say the evidence from their study and other researchers’ deep-sea dives suggests that most, if not all, sponges sneeze. Nevertheless, there is much that is uncertain about the behavior.

“In the videos, you can see that the slime moves along defined paths on the surface of the sponge before it collects,” Kornder said, adding, “I have some hypotheses, but more analysis is needed to find out what’s going on.”

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