Sponges (class Porifera) are evolutionarily ancient metazoans that populate the tropical oceans in great abundances but also occur in temperate regions and even in freshwater. Sponges contain large numbers of bacteria that are embedded within the animal matrix. The phylogeny of these bacteria and the evolutionary age of the interaction are virtually unknown. In order to provide insights into the species richness of the microbial community of sponges, we performed a comprehensive diversity survey based on 190 sponge-derived 16S ribosomal DNA (rDNA) sequences. The sponges Aplysina aerophoba and Theonella swinhoei were chosen for construction of the bacterial 16S rDNA library because they are taxonomically distantly related and they populate nonoverlapping geographic regions. In both sponges, a uniform microbial community was discovered whose phylogenetic signature is distinctly different from that of marine plankton or marine sediments. Altogether 14 monophyletic, sponge-specific sequence clusters were identified that belong to at least seven different bacterial divisions. By definition, the sequences of each cluster are more closely related to each other than to a sequence from nonsponge sources. These monophyletic clusters comprise 70% of all publicly available sponge-derived 16S rDNA sequences, reflecting the generality of the observed phenomenon. This shared microbial fraction represents the smallest common denominator of the sponges investigated in this study. Bacteria that are exclusively found in certain host species or that occur only transiently would have been missed. A picture emerges where sponges can be viewed as highly concentrated reservoirs of so far uncultured and elusive marine microorganisms.