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Microb Ecol. 2018 Apr;75(3):609-621. doi: 10.1007/s00248-017-1082-z. Epub 2017 Oct 6.

Regulation of Fatty Acid Production and Release in Benthic Algae: Could Parallel Allelopathy Be Explained with Plant Defence Theories?

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ECOLAB, Université de Toulouse, CNRS, INPT, UPS, Toulouse, France.
ECOLAB, Université de Toulouse, CNRS, INPT, UPS, Toulouse, France.
EcoLab (Laboratoire d'Ecologie Fonctionnelle et Environnement), Université de Toulouse, 118 Route de Narbonne, F-31062, Toulouse, France.


Many organisms produce chemical compounds, generally referred as secondary metabolites, to defend against predators and competitors (allelopathic compounds). Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the interaction between environmental factors and secondary metabolites production. However, microalgae commonly use simple metabolites having a role in primary metabolism as allelopathic compounds. The aim of this study was to determine whether classical theories of plant chemical defences could be applied to microalgae producing allelochemicals derived from the primary metabolism. Our study was designed to investigate how growth phase, algal population density, nutrient limitation and carbon assimilation affect the production and release of allelopathic free fatty acids (FFAs) among other FFAs. The model species used was Uronema confervicolum, a benthic filamentous green alga that produces two allelopathic FFAs (linoleic and α-linolenic acids) inhibiting diatom growth. FFAs have been quantified in algal biomass and in culture medium. Our results were analysed according to two classical plant defence theories: the growth-differentiation balance hypothesis (GDBH) and the optimal defence theory (ODT), based on the metabolic capacities for defence production and on the need for defence, respectively. While a higher production of allelopathic compounds under increased light conditions supports the use of GDBH with this microalga, the observation of a negative feedback mechanism mostly supports ODT. Therefore, both theories were insufficient to explain all the observed effects of environmental factors on the production of these allelochemicals. This highlights the needs of new theories and models to better describe chemical interactions of microalgae.


Allelopathy; Alpha-linolenic acid; Filamentous green alga; Linoleic acid

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