Marine sponges harbour complex microbial communities of ecological and biotechnological importance. Here, we propose the application of the widespread sponge family Irciniidae as an appropriate model in microbiology and biochemistry research. Half a gram of one Irciniidae specimen hosts hundreds of bacterial species—the vast majority of which are difficult to cultivate—and dozens of fungal and archaeal species. The structure of these symbiont assemblages is shaped by the sponge host and is highly stable over space and time. Two types of quorum-sensing molecules have been detected in these animals, hinting at microbe-microbe and host-microbe signalling being important processes governing the dynamics of the Irciniidae holobiont. Irciniids are vulnerable to disease outbreaks, and concerns have emerged about their conservation in a changing climate. They are nevertheless amenable to mariculture and laboratory maintenance, being attractive targets for metabolite harvesting and experimental biology endeavours. Several bioactive terpenoids and polyketides have been retrieved from Irciniidae sponges, but the actual producer (host or symbiont) of these compounds has rarely been clarified. To tackle this, and further pertinent questions concerning the functioning, resilience and physiology of these organisms, truly multi-layered approaches integrating cutting-edge microbiology, biochemistry, genetics and zoology research are needed.
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