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porifera.net lab

@ Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena, Germany


porifera.net lab: sponge functional anatomy, comparative morphology and physiology of basal metazoa

  • Nickel_2011
The porifera.net lab of Dr Michael Nickel mainly explores the functional anatomy and physiology of sponges (Porifera), within a broader comparative context of the basal metazoan phylogenetic framework. The lab is part of the Institut für Spezielle Zoologie und Evolutionsbiologie mit Phyletischem Museum at Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena since October 2007.

If you want to know where we are, have a look on this Google Map.

Bibliographic information:
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General research interests

TethyaSponges are sessile filter feeding animas, but nevertheless they exhibit behaviours which base on movement and hence temporarary structural modifications of their tissue and skeletons. In most cases, these movements are so slow that they are not easily recognized by an observer without technical support. In some species, these movements are much faster and can be recognized and recorded more easily. Especially specimens of the genus Tethya display movements in form of body dislocation, contraction and formation of body extensions.

These movements are far from beeing random. They are controlled by the sponge and therefore sponges must have the capability of integrating internal and external signals. On the other hand, a nervous system or nerv cells have never been found in sponges. Since sponges are ancient organisms under an evolutionary point of view, they are interesting model organisms to unreavel questions upon the development of early metazoan signalling mechanisms. Questions raise for the signalling components: What kind of receptors are involved? Which signalling molecules? Is ther a signalling network and how does this system work? This leads us to systems biology. And what about other ways of signalling, eg. mechanical signals? Hence there are also morphological questions link to this movement behaviours: how does it work? Most demosponges possess skeletons made from silica spicules. What are the static principles behind skeletal and tissue dynamics? We can go even further: can we find technical principles which are yet unknown? This leads us to material sciences and construction.

Research topics

Tethya rot rosaOur "lab-rat" for most of our investigations is Tethya wilhelma, a previously unknown species, we found in 1999 the aquarium of the zoological-botanical garden "Wilhelma" (see external link: Wilhelma ). The advantage of this species is that it is small and reproduces asexually by budding, so we can easily maintain, cultivate and breed it in a tropical aquarium of around 100 l size.

Currently we focus on the following topics:
  • Characterization of sponge contractions and underlying rhythms
  • Physiological characterization of signal substances, receptors and inhibitors involved in the coordination of sponge contraction
  • Molecular characterization of genes involved in sponge contraction
  • Structural characterization of the functional morphology and biomechanics of sponge contraction (statics and dynamics)
  • Asexual reproduction of sponges
  • Systematics, phylogeny and evolution of the genus Tethya
For detailed information, see our research section.


  • Dr. Felix Beckmann, GKSS Research Center @ HASYLAB @ DESY, Hamburg, Germany
    Topics: Synchrotron radiation based x-ray microtomography for 3D-Morphology of Tethya and other sponges

  • Dr. Eric Bullinger, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (Institut Montefiore)and GIGA (Interdisciplinary Cluster for Applied Geno-proteomics)
    Topics: Systems biology of signal transduction in Tethya; Quantitative analysis of SR-µCT 3D image data (Morphology of Tethya)

  • Prof. Dr. Gert Wörheide, Molecular Geo- & Palaeobiology, Department of Earth- and Environmental Sciences & GeoBio-Center LMU, Ludwig-Maximilians-Universitaet Muenchen, Germany
    Topics: Genomics of Tethya wilhelma (454 transcriptome sequencing and analysis)
  • Prof. Dr. Dennis Lavrov , Department of Ecology, Evolution, and Organismal Biology,Iowa State University, Ames, USA
    Topic: Molecular biology of genes involved in signal transduction in Tethya, RNAi techniques
  • Prof. Dr. Iain Wilkie, Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, Glasgow Caledonian University, Glasgow, Scotland
    Topic: Biomechanics of extracellular matrix components in poriferan contraction behaviour, mutable-like collagenous tissue in sponges

  • Dr. Thomas Wallmersperger, Institute for Statics and Dynamics of Aerospace Structures (ISD), Stuttgart University, Germany
    Topics: Modelling of contraction of ; Intelligent compund biomaterials from sponges