The first batch of a Baikal endemic has arrived at the DLNP Molecular Genetics Group: Lubomirskia baicalensis sponges.

Since 2011, a large-scale phytocenosis disturbance in the coastal region of Lake Baikal and the occurrence of some anomalous-coloured (pink) sponges Lubomirskia baicalensis were detected. To date, diseases and death of different sponge types are swiftly progressing in many lake regions. Changes in water temperature, light intensity, salinity and also infections, contaminants etc. are claimed to be the reasons.

Using these sponges, the biologists from the Molecular Genetics Group are going to evaluate the contamination level of the unique lake ecosystem and to find sponge genes whose activity intensifies in response to the increase of heavy metal concentration in water. Their goal is to understand how anthropogenic load impacts Baikal hydrocoles. Along with the Limnological Institute of SB RAS and the Section of Neutron Activation Analysis and Applied Research of FLNP of JINR, the elemental composition analysis of sponge samples gathered in two different locations will be performed. The first location is clean, the second one has a significant anthropogenic load.

Lubomirskia baicalensis settlements are long, narrow, branching stems usually growing up vertically. The sponge body is pierced with multiple silicone spicules, for this reason they are referred to as Cornacuspongida. Of all freshwater sponges, only Lubomirskia has green symbiotic microphytic algae in its body which colour them bright green. The sponges feed by filtering microscopic organisms and organic particles out of the Baikal water. One small sponge settlement can filter several tens liters of water during 24 hours, which determines their crucial role in the Baikal biocenosis.

In this video, Alena Yakhnenko explains how to gather Baikal sponges for new studies.