Skip Navigation

Your Environment. Your Health.

New Insights into Marine Sponge PBDE Biosynthesis

Vinayak Agarwal, Ph.D., Paul Jensen, Ph.D., Bradley Moore, Ph.D.
University of California, San Diego
P01ES021921, K99ES026620

A new study, funded in part by NIEHS, revealed that symbiotic cyanobacteria are responsible for the naturally produced polybrominated diphenyl ether (PBDE) toxins found in Dysideidae marine sponges. The researchers also identified the genes involved in PBDE production, which could be used to find and monitor other cyanobacteria that produce PBDEs.

According to the researchers, PBDEs found throughout the marine environment are structurally similar to toxic man-made brominated flame retardants and can potentially transfer to humans through bioaccumulation in the marine food web. The researchers sought to clarify the genetic and molecular basis for PBDE production in Dysideidae sponges because they are among the most abundant sources of these natural toxins.

Using an approach called metagenome mining, the scientists searched for genes involved in PBDE production in three types of sponges and their associated microbial communities. The analysis identified PDBE biosynthetic genes in Hormoscilla spongeliae symbiotic cyanobacteria, but not in the sponges themselves or other microbial organisms. The researchers then expressed the genes in cyanobacterial hosts and confirmed that the genes were responsible for PBDE production.

Citation: Agarwal V, Blanton JM, Podell S, Taton A, Schorn MA, Busch J, Lin Z, Schmidt EW, Jensen PR, Paul VJ, Biggs JS, Golden JW, Allen EE, Moore BS. 2017. Metagenomic discovery of polybrominated diphenyl ether biosynthesis by marine sponges. Nat Chem Biol 13(5):537-543.