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A red sponge, Amphimedon compressa, one of two of the sponge species from which the scientists developed the cell cultures. Credit: Shirley A. Pomponi, Ph.D.

Scientists first to develop rapid cell division in marine sponges

Vertebrate, insect, and plant cell lines are important tools for research in many disciplines, including human health, evolutionary and developmental biology, agriculture and toxicology. Cell lines have been established for many organisms, including freshwater and terrestrial invertebrates.

Despite many efforts over multiple decades, there are still no cell lines for marine invertebrates including marine sponges, which are the source of thousands of novel chemicals with pharmaceutically relevant properties. Supply of these chemicals also is a bottleneck to development of sponge-derived drug leads, because wild harvest is not ecologically sustainable, and chemical synthesis is challenging due to the complexity of many of the bioactive chemical compounds.

Researchers from Florida Atlantic University's Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute and collaborators at Wageningen University in the Netherlands have developed a breakthrough in marine invertebrate (sponge) cell culture. For the first time, they have accomplished a substantial increase in both the rate and number of cell divisions. They have demonstrated that an amino acid-optimized nutrient medium stimulates rapid cell division in nine marine sponge species. The demonstration of exceptionally fast cell division for marine invertebrates (sponges), as well as the researchers' ability to subculture the cells, is a groundbreaking discovery for marine biotechnology.

Results of the study, published in Scientific Reports, showed that the fastest dividing cells doubled in less than one hour. Cultures of three species were subcultured from three to five times, with an average of 5.99 population doublings after subculturing, and a lifespan from 21 to 35 days.

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