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Free fatty acid release as a defence pathway in the marine diatom, Phaeodactylum tricornutum

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Gary Caldwell, Malcolm Baptie


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Activated chemical defence pathways in microalgae have only recently started to attract attention. The best characterised are the dimethyl-sulphoniopropionate (DMSP) and oxylipin pathways, which are proposed to provide defence against grazers and pathogens, but such pathways may be absent in certain successful species. Using the model marine diatom, Phaeodactylum tricornutum, we have shown that large quantities of free fatty acids, probably freed from cellular membranes, are released when the cell loses its integrity. These include mono- and poly-unsaturated fatty acids, such as palmitoleic acid and eicosapentaenoic acid. These free fatty acids have been shown to exhibit broad biological activities, including toxicity to grazers and and inhibitory effects towards numerous Gram positive and negative bacteria. Importantly, these fatty acids are active at micromolar concentrations. Fatty acid release upon cellular disintegration is proposed as an elegant, broad-acting and metabolically inexpensive microalgal defence pathway against various biological threats including pathogens and predators. This pathway may further explain the success of microalgae, especially the diatoms.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Desbois AP, Caldwell GS, Baptie M, Smith VJ

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Unpublished

Conference Name: 56th Annual Meeting of the British Phycological Society

Year of Conference: 2008

Pages: -


Publisher: British Phycological Society