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Sponge budding is a spatiotemporal morphological patterning process: Insights from synchrotron radiation-based x-ray microtomography into the asexual reproduction of Tethya wilhelma

Jörg U Hammel1, Julia Herzen2, Felix Beckmann2 and Michael Nickel1*

Author Affiliations

1 Institut für Spezielle Zoologie und Evolutionsbiologie, Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Erbertstr. 1, 07743 Jena, Germany

2 GKSS Research Center, Max-Planck-Str. 1, 21502 Geesthacht, Germany

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Frontiers in Zoology 2009, 6:19  doi:10.1186/1742-9994-6-19

Published: 8 September 2009



Primary agametic-asexual reproduction mechanisms such as budding and fission are present in all non-bilaterian and many bilaterian animal taxa and are likely to be metazoan ground pattern characters. Cnidarians display highly organized and regulated budding processes. In contrast, budding in poriferans was thought to be less specific and related to the general ability of this group to reorganize their tissues. Here we test the hypothesis of morphological pattern formation during sponge budding.


We investigated the budding process in Tethya wilhelma (Demospongiae) by applying 3D morphometrics to high resolution synchrotron radiation-based x-ray microtomography (SR-μCT) image data. We followed the morphogenesis of characteristic body structures and identified distinct morphological states which indeed reveal characteristic spatiotemporal morphological patterns in sponge bud development. We discovered the distribution of skeletal elements, canal system and sponge tissue to be based on a sequential series of distinct morphological states. Based on morphometric data we defined four typical bud stages. Once they have reached the final stage buds are released as fully functional juvenile sponges which are morphologically and functionally equivalent to adult specimens.


Our results demonstrate that budding in demosponges is considerably more highly organized and regulated than previously assumed. Morphological pattern formation in asexual reproduction with underlying genetic regulation seems to have evolved early in metazoans and was likely part of the developmental program of the last common ancestor of all Metazoa (LCAM).