A soft spot for chemistry–current taxonomic and evolutionary implications of sponge secondary metabolite distribution

Adrian Galitz, Yoichi Nakao, Peter J. Schupp, Gert Wörheide, Dirk Erpenbeck*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Citations (Scopus)


Marine sponges are the most prolific marine sources for discovery of novel bioactive compounds. Sponge secondary metabolites are sought-after for their potential in pharmaceutical applications, and in the past, they were also used as taxonomic markers alongside the difficult and homoplasy-prone sponge morphology for species delineation (chemotaxonomy). The understanding of phylogenetic distribution and distinctiveness of metabolites to sponge lineages is pivotal to reveal pathways and evolution of compound production in sponges. This benefits the discovery rate and yield of bioprospecting for novel marine natural products by identifying lineages with high potential of being new sources of valuable sponge compounds. In this review, we summarize the current biochemical data on sponges and compare the metabolite distribution against a sponge phylogeny. We assess compound specificity to lineages, potential convergences, and suitability as diagnostic phylogenetic markers. Our study finds compound distribution corroborating current (molecular) phylogenetic hypotheses, which include yet unaccepted polyphyly of several demosponge orders and families. Likewise, several compounds and compound groups display a high degree of lineage specificity, which suggests homologous biosynthetic pathways among their taxa, which identifies yet unstudied species of this lineage as promising bioprospecting targets.

Original languageEnglish
Article number448
JournalMarine Drugs
Issue number8
Publication statusPublished - 2021 Aug


  • Bioactivity
  • Chemotaxonomy
  • Marine sponge
  • Natural product evolution
  • Secondary metabolite

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Drug Discovery


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