Why are sponges so SPECIAL?
The most ancient of all animals, sponges are really weird creatures! Don't search for eyes or nose - they don't even have organs. Yet they are extremely complex and fascinating organisms. You will find sponges in every aquatic system in the world - be it salty, brackish or freshwater - and don't be surprised if they are so many to literally dominate the place. The vast majority of sponges are filter feeders, actually exceptional ones, but a few carnivorous species are also present (and yes: they have no mouth!).
Typically, sponges also host huge and varied assemblages of microbes the role of which is still the subject of intense research. Microbes are involved in the synthesis of at least some of the thousands bioactive compounds scientists are finding in sponges, but many others appear to be original sponge-produced molecules.
Bioactive compounds that could be transformed in powerful medicines are just one of the reasons why sponges are so important. Silica structures, collagen and entire skeletons are further valuable materials we may derive from them. Furthermore, sponges play key-roles in their habitats by affecting the cycle of energy and matter, creating 3D frameworks useful for other organisms, eroding the substrate and much more.