Oscarella lobularis : a new sponge model to stimulate interdisciplinary studies in Evolution-Development and Ecology


Spongex partners are organizing an international workshop

It will take place from 14th to 16th October 2015, Giens, French Riviera in France
Abstract have to be submitted before april 15th, 2015., Pre-register now

Scientific context

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Modèle Oscarella lobularis

The emergence of multicellular metazoans from a unicellular ancestor is one of the most important advances in the history of life. Elucidating molecular and cellular processes underlying cell-to-cell communication, cell adhesion, and differentiation in metazoans is thus crucial for understanding the origin of Metazoa. The formation of an epithelium that enclosed and controlled an internal environment would have been one of the first events distinguishing a pluricellular animal from a colony of cells (Leys and Riesgo, 2012 ; Dickinson et al. 2011, 2012 ; Fahey and Degnan, 2010). One of the exciting questions now raised in animal biology is “How and when did epithelial features emerge ?”. To answer this type of evolutionary question, comparative approaches represent a powerful tool. Sponges (phylum Porifera) as one of the major actors of marine ecosystems and sister group of Eumetazoa (all other animals) represent a key animal lineage to resolve many fundamental biological questions. Genomic comparisons between all animal groups performed so far have revealed that, despite their morpho-anatomic simplicity, sponges share most of the molecular toolkit needed for cell differentiation, development and morphogenesis. In this context, functional and molecular characterization of transcription factors and signalling pathways, and the effects of their deregulations in sponges are expected to be extrapolated to all other animals. Moreover, sponges provide simple animal systems that can help in studying biological phenomena at the cellular level of integration because they lack organs in contrast to Bilaterian animals. Presently no bona fide sponge model enabling cellular and developmental functional studies is available to the international community.
Our aim is thus to develop Oscarella lobularis, a Mediterranean endemic sponge species, as a new model for cellular, developmental and ecological purposes.
Many aspects of the biology of this sponge have already been well described by members of IMBE team (geographical distribution, cytology, gametogenesis, embryonic and postembryonic development, EST content, phylogenetic relationships etc.…). Nevertheless, these available data are insufficient to make this organism efficient to answer diverse scientific questions such as conservation, at the animal scale, of molecular and cellular mechanisms involved in cell differentiation, adhesion, migration, apoptosis known to be crucial in the development of some disease processes, like cancers.
Understanding how environmental conditions act on these genetic mechanisms is the new challenge the biological community has to face to federate biology, health and environmental studies. To reach this objective, we need to sequence the full genome of this organism and compare it with that of other species, to grow this sponge in aquarium all year long and to develop molecular tools for functional studies.

Oscarella lobularis :

The aims of the project

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Aquarium stabulation Oscarella lobularis

Establishing sponge culture of Oscarella lobularis in controlled environment.
This step will be realized with the help of a young company located in Marseilles :

Sequencing the whole genome of Oscarella lobularis
Step performed by the IGS lab.

Developing molecular tools enabling to study gene functions (RNAi, transgenesis, specific antibody synthesis...)
Performed by both IBDM and IMBE

Estimating the level of conservation of epithelia across Metazoa : their features (adhesion, polarity) and the mechanisms involved in their patterning (ciliogenesis, epithelial morphogenesis)
Performed by both IBDM and IMBE

Studying the impact of some pollutants that may disturb epithelial morphogenesis
CRCM/IMBE collaboration


The Spongex project receives funding from the A*MIDEX University Aix-Marseille foundation. A*MIDEX « Emergence et Innovation » funds support scientific risk-taking by promoting emerging research themes and innovative approaches.

Spongex project partners

The Developmental Biology Institute of Marseilles (IBDM)

  • André Le Bivic, Director of The Developmental Biology Institute of Marseilles (IBDM), group leader : Cell polarity and morphogenesis of epithelia.
    André Le Bivic
  • National platform Optical imaging page web

Structural and Genomic Information Laboratory (IGS)

  • Jean-Michel Claverie, Director of the Mediterranean Institute of Microbiology, and head of the Structural and Genomic Information Laboratory, a CNRS unit (UPR2589) in Marseilles.
    Jean-Michel Claverie

Mediterranean Institute of marine and terrestrial Biodiversity and Ecology

(Endoume Marine Station)

Team 2.2 : Ecological Developmental Biology

  • Nina Séjourné Study Engineer, cellular and molecular biology, Amidex fixed term contract.
    Nina Séjourné

Molecular Biology Service IMBE :

Sclerochronology-histology service IMBE :


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