Sponges are a potential alternative model species to bivalves in pollution biomonitoring and environmental risk assessment in the aquatic ecosystem. In the present study, a novel in vivo exposure sponge culture model was developed from field-collected and cryopreserved sponge (Hymeniacidon perleve) cells to investigate the genotoxic effects of environmentally relevant metals in the laboratory. Sponge cell aggregates were cultured and exposed to noncytotoxic concentrations (0-0.4 mg/L) of cadmium chloride, nickel chloride, and sodium dichromate as quantified by the reduction of 3-(4,5-dimethylthiazol-2-yl)-2,5-diphenyltetrazolium bromide and DNA-strand breaks assessed by the comet assay. Reactive oxygen species (ROS) formation was quantified by oxidation of 2',7'-dichlorofluorescin diacetate in sponge cell aggregates exposed to the same concentrations of Cd, Cr, and Ni. There was a statistically significant (p < 0.05) concentration-dependent increase in the level of DNA-strand breaks and ROS formation in all of the metals investigated. To the best of our knowledge, we have utilized for the first time the alkaline comet assay to detect DNA-strand breaks in marine sponge cells and demonstrated that exposure to noncytotoxic concentrations of Cd, Cr, and Ni for 12 h results in a concentration-dependent increase in DNA damage and levels of ROS production. In conclusion, we have developed a novel in vivo model based on culture of cryopreserved sponge cells that is compatible with the alkaline comet assay. Genotoxicity in marine sponges measured by the comet assay technique may be a useful tool for biomonitoring research and risk assessment in aquatic ecosystems. Environ Toxicol Chem 2017;9999:XX-XX. © 2017 SETAC.