Natural sponges (sea and freshwater sponges) possess a stunning number of capabilities. These amazing adaptations have given the sponge a great advantage when it comes to survival and longevity of the species. So what, you may guess are these qualities? What can these creatures do that has help them last for up to 600 million years on this planet? It begs the question: Can sponges regenerate?
The answer is not so simple as a yes or a no. In general sponge cells have the ability to act as individuals, while also coming together with other identical cells. The shape of the sponge will also determine whether regeneration takes place.
How severe and where on the sponge it occurs will determine how fast of slow regeneration occurs. All in all, regeneration is always good for the sponge; the new sponge will be more robust than the parent. This is common knowledge within the sponge farming industry.
Independent and Free
An experiment done in 1907 by H. V. Wilson showed how individual sponge cells behaved and answered the question: Can Sponges Regenerate? In order to separate a living sponge into individual cells, he forcefully sifted it through a fine sieve. The separated sponge cells behaved independently, similar to amobeas (Oxford Academics).
After settling on the bottom of the dish, the individual cells moved toward one another to form a mass of cells; eventually forming a new sponge. This ability to exist independently and come together with other cells to form a new organism is a snapshot of the evolution of life. Life originally existed as single cells before coming together to form the multi-cellular organisms.
Selectiveness Leads to Diversity
Another of Wilson’s experiment used different types of sponges; the individual cells again behaved independently before uniting with other cells. This particular exercise showed that cells from one sponge will only come together with other cell from that same sponge – never with cells from a different sponge (The Life of a Sponge).
You can see that life (at the cellular level) has an ability to recognize other life that is not only similar, but also compatible with itself. This is probably the groundwork of the great diversity of life on our planet. In order for so many species to survive is for its member to seek out only other members of that particular group, and never go outside of the species.
Shape Can Determine Destiny
Whether regeneration happens depends on which sponge we are looking at. Factors such as its shape, internal make-up, rate of growth, and how often the sponge is preyed upon, will affect the regeneration of that species of sponge (Oxford Academic). For example, the Vase-shape Caribbean sponge (Mycale laxissima) will not able to reattach itself if snapped at the base by a storm.
Stalked shaped and flat shaped sponges that happened to host photosynthetic symbionts were also unable to reattach themselves. For reasons unknown, the shape of certain species of sponges determines whether or not regeneration will occur. It’s not clear how shape affects whether regeneration takes place.
Size and Location Matters
It has been found that the amount, type and location of the damage will also influence regeneration. The size and location of the sponge is also a contributing factor (Oxford Academics). Size of damage seems to influence regeneration and at times if the sponge will recover at all.
This has been demonstrated by the enormous basket-shaped sponge (Xestospongia muta) that were seriously injured by grounding ships in the Florida Keys. Those that experienced more damage experienced a slower rate of regeneration, when compared with those that only suffer relatively minor injury. It’s understandable to confuse rate of regeneration with time it takes to heal.
A severe injury will take longer to heal than a minor one – that’s true for any organism due to the amount of tissue involved. The rate of healing should be the same for both injuries. When it comes to sponges, the size of injury will affect how quickly regeneration happens. Larger wounds will do so at a slower rate than minor injuries.
What Breaks You Makes You Stronger
It is well-known in the sea sponge farming industry that when a sponge harvested by cutting it one inch from its base, the remaining base will grow into sponge that will be more robust than the previous one. The regeneration process demonstrates for us a much higher biomass growth rate in the sponge fragments compared to the original sponge (NCBI).
Regeneration in sponges seems to have an added purpose besides reproduction. In fact, it seems to make the new generation more vigorous than the previous one. This offers us another clue as to why sponges have thrived for 600 million years – the first and most successful animals that have ever existed. We human parents are keenly aware of our desire that our children do even better than us – sponges literally put that into practice.
A Unique Place
Natural sponges are the first multi-cell organism to inhabit our planet. They have evolved a number of survival strategies that have helped them survive and thrive for 600 million years – more than any other animal in the history of the earth.
Their cells have the ability to act independently while at the same time come together and collaborate with other cells. These cells are able to distinguish between those from their own species and other cells. Only collaborating with those belonging to their own species.
Regeneration in sponges is influenced by various factors, including the shape and location of the sponge. The severity of the damage will determine how quickly regeneration occurs. The more serious the wound is the slower the rate of regeneration will be. Keep in mind that regeneration in sponges is not the same as the healing process in animals such as ourselves.
When a sponge is fragmented and regenerates, the new generation is actually heartier than the last. This is a brilliant adaptation to ensure the sponge continues to thrive. This amazing creature continues to impress us with its many adaptations, which put them in a unique place among all animals.
What do you think about this aweome ability? Can you think of other animals that can regenerate? Do you think regeneration is a good method of reproduction? How do you think it has helped the sponge to survive and thrive? Please leave your comment below.
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