When someone talks about a sea sponge my first thought is of the slimmy sponge sitting at the edge of my sink. Then if I think harder, the SpongeBob Square Pants toys I use in my preschool swim classes may cross my mind. However from now on I will be giving sea sponges more respect, because I found that they have abilities beyond my wildest dreams.
The real sea sponges may not be comical like our cartoon friend SpongeBob but they are fascinating animals. In fact the sponge from the genus Euplectella has one up on SpongeBob because it lives in a glass house. These sponges also known as Venus flower baskets, are master minds of mechanical engineering and are baffling scientists. The sponge is able to take glass particles from its environment and glue them together. They build their glass houses with a perfect geometrical pattern and what is more amazing... no heat is required. The sponge structure is also so strong that it is incredibly hard to break. Listen to this podcast and you will get a better understanding of how amazing these creatures are. This just comes to show that complexity does not mean everything. A sea sponge is the simplest animal on earth and yet it has engineering ability beyond human comprehension.
Not only do some sponges have the ability to build themselves glass mansions but other sea sponges could also be the source of many new antibiotics. Scientists have discovered that sea sponges house actinomycete bacteria. This type of bacteria produces over 70 percent of naturally occurring antibiotics. What is exciting scientists is that 25 percent of the bacteria gene pieces found in actinomycete bacteria, from sea sponges, were never seen before. Our sea sponge friends could be housing antibiotics that would have never been possible to create synthetically in a lab.
I really think that within the next few years sea sponges with be making headlines and their simplicity will no longer be over looked.