Friday Fellow: Venus’ Flower Basket

by Piter Kehoma Boll

Sponges are the weirdest of all animals but also some of the most beautiful. One species of special beauty that is considerably popular is Euplectella aspergillum, popularly known as the Venus’ flower basket.

Venus’ flower basket in the Pacific Ocean.

Growing on the Ocean floor of tropical waters, the Venus’ flower basket is common around the Philippines and this may be the only place where it occurs. Other similar species are found in nearby areas such as Japan, Indonesia and Australia and are often mistaken for the Venus’ flower basket. There are, indeed, populations of this species identified in Australia and Indonesia, among other areas near the Philippines, but are considered subspecies due to subtle morphological differences and may in fact be complete separate species.

The Venus’ flower basket is a medium-sized sponge, measuring up to 1.3 m in height, althout most specimens measure between 10 and 30 cm. The body is white and has several large pores that make it look like an elongate basket, hence the common name. The osculum, the large opening at the top, is covered by a mesh of fibers that makes its interior inaccessible to large organisms.

Skeleton of the Venus’ flower basket. Credits to the Auckland Museum.*

Recently, the Venus’ flower basket has called the attention of scientists because of the structural complexity of its skeleton, which is composed of silica (i.e., glass). Studies have shown that the anchor spicules, i.e., those that attach the sponge to the substrate, are similar to man-mane optical fibers regarding optical properties but are better regarding fracture resistance. Understanding the detailed pathway used by the sponge to build these spicules could lead to the development of easier ways to build optical fibers and even increase their quality.

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References:

Monn MA, Weaver JC, Zhang T, Aizenberg J, Kesari H (2015) New functional insights into the internal architecture of the laminated anchor spicules of Euplectella aspergillum. PNAS 1112(16): 4976-498. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1415502112

Shimizu K, Amano T, Bari MR, Weaver JC, Arima J, Mori N (2015) Glassin, a histidine-rich protein from the siliceous skeletal system of the marine sponge Euplectella, directs silica polycondensation. PNAS 112(37): 11449-11454. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1506968112

Tabachnick KR, Janussen D, Menschenina LL (2008) New Australian Hexactinellida (Porifera) with a revision of Euplectella aspergillum. Zootaxa 1866: 7–68.

Weaver JC, Aizenberg J, Fantner GE, Kisailus D, Woesz A, Allen P, Fields K, Porter MJ, Zok FW, Hansma PK, Fratzl P, Morse DE (2007) Hierarchical assembly of the siliceous skeletal lattice of the hexactinellid sponge Euplectella aspergillum. Journal of Structural Biology 158: 93–106. doi: 10.1016/j.jsb.2006.10.027

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*Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

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