Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Sneezing sponges suggest existence of sensory organ: Discovery challenges assumptions about 'primitive' organism

Date:
February 6, 2014
Source:
University of Alberta
Summary:
Biologists have used a variety of drugs to elicit sneezes in freshwater sponges and observed the process using fluorescent dye. Their efforts focused on the sponge's osculum, which controls water exiting the organism, including water expelled during a sneeze.

A sponge is shown contracting after sediment is added to the water it is filtering. These contractions work like a sneeze, helping remove sediment clogging the sponge's filtration system.
Credit: Danielle Ludeman

When Danielle Ludeman decided to leave her hometown of Vancouver to study evolutionary biology at the University of Alberta, she knew she was in for a challenge that would help her discover things about science and, in turn, herself.

What she didn't count on were the hours, days and months she'd spend watching sponges in mid-sneeze.

It sounds like a strange way to pass time, but sneezing sponges have become a major part of Ludeman's studies at the U of A, including a new paper that points to the sneeze as evidence of a sensory organ in one of the most basic multicellular organisms on Earth.

"The sneeze can tell us a lot about how the sponge works and how it's responding to the environment," said Ludeman, a master's student in the Faculty of Science. "This paper really gets at the question of how sensory systems evolved. The sponge doesn't have a nervous system, so how can it respond to the environment with a sneeze the way another animal that does have a nervous system can?"

Ludeman started the work as part of an undergraduate research honours project, working under the supervision of Sally Leys, Canada Research Chair in Evolutionary Developmental Biology. It was Leys and a former graduate student who first discovered that sponges do in fact sneeze.

The sponge is a filter feeder that relies totally on water flow through its body for food, oxygen and waste removal. Sneezing, a 30- to 45-minute process that sees the entire body of the sponge expand and contract, allows it to respond to physical stimuli such as sediment in the water.

Time-lapse sneezes

For their study, Ludeman and Leys used a variety of drugs to elicit sneezes in freshwater sponges and observed the process using fluorescent dye -- all recorded using time-lapse video. Their efforts focused on the sponge's osculum, which controls water exiting the organism, including water expelled during a sneeze.

Through a series of lab experiments, the pair discovered that ciliated cells lining the osculum play a role in triggering sneezes. In other animals, cilia function like antennae, helping cells respond to stimuli in a co-ordinated manner. In the sponge, their localized presence in the osculum and their sensory function suggest the osculum is in fact a sensory organ.

"For a sponge to have a sensory organ is totally new. This does not appear in a textbook; this doesn't appear in someone's concept of what sponges are permitted to have," said Leys.

Leys said the discovery raises new questions about how sensory systems may have evolved in the sponge and other animals, including ones with nervous systems. It's possible this sensory system is unique to the sponge, she said, evolving over the last 600 million years. Or it may be evidence of a common mechanism shared among all animals, and retained over evolutionary history, as demonstration of its essential function.

For Ludeman, the paper represents the latest chapter in her studies at the U of A, which also included a year-long exchange in Australia and several months at the Bamfield Marine Sciences Centre on Vancouver Island (where, it just so happens, she also studied sponges). Having the flexibility to study abroad was part of the appeal of the U of A, she said.

"Those two experiences were huge during my undergrad. The Faculty of Science at the U of A gave me those opportunities."

Despite all the hours filming and observing sneezes, Ludeman says she's still not sick of sponges.

"We know so little about how a sponge works, and there are so many cool questions you can ask."

Ludeman and Leys' findings were published Jan. 13 in BMC Evolutionary Biology.

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aNUCMW-404s


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by University of Alberta. The original article was written by Bryan Alary. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Danielle A Ludeman, Nathan Farrar, Ana Riesgo, Jordi Paps, Sally P Leys. Evolutionary origins of sensation in metazoans: functional evidence for a new sensory organ in sponges. BMC Evolutionary Biology, 2014; 14 (1): 3 DOI: 10.1186/1471-2148-14-3

Cite This Page:

University of Alberta. "Sneezing sponges suggest existence of sensory organ: Discovery challenges assumptions about 'primitive' organism." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 6 February 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140206110152.htm>.
University of Alberta. (2014, February 6). Sneezing sponges suggest existence of sensory organ: Discovery challenges assumptions about 'primitive' organism. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140206110152.htm
University of Alberta. "Sneezing sponges suggest existence of sensory organ: Discovery challenges assumptions about 'primitive' organism." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/02/140206110152.htm (accessed October 21, 2014).

Share This



More Plants & Animals News

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Cadaver Dogs Aid Search for More Victims of Suspected Indiana Serial Killer

Cadaver Dogs Aid Search for More Victims of Suspected Indiana Serial Killer

Reuters - US Online Video (Oct. 21, 2014) Police in Gary, Indiana are using cadaver dogs to search for more victims after a suspected serial killer confessed to killing at least seven women. Linda So reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Lion Cubs Unveiled to the Public

White Lion Cubs Unveiled to the Public

Reuters - Light News Video Online (Oct. 21, 2014) Visitors to Belgrade zoo meet a pair of three-week-old lion cubs for the first time. Tara Cleary reports. Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com
'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

'Cadaver Dog' Sniffs out Human Remains

AP (Oct. 21, 2014) Where's a body buried? Buster's nose can often tell you. He's a cadaver dog, specially trained to find human remains and increasingly being used by law enforcement and accepted in courts. These dogs are helping solve even decades-old mysteries. (Oct. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

White Lion Cubs Born in Belgrade Zoo

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) Two white lion cubs, an extremely rare subspecies of the African lion, were recently born at Belgrade Zoo. They are being bottle fed by zoo keepers after they were rejected by their mother after birth. Duration: 00:42 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Plants & Animals

Earth & Climate

Fossils & Ruins

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins