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Microbial volatile organic compounds in intra-kingdom and inter-kingdom interactions

Abstract

Microorganisms produce and excrete a versatile array of metabolites with different physico-chemical properties and biological activities. However, the ability of microorganisms to release volatile compounds has only attracted research attention in the past decade. Recent research has revealed that microbial volatiles are chemically very diverse and have important roles in distant interactions and communication. Microbial volatiles can diffuse fast in both gas and water phases, and thus can mediate swift chemical interactions. As well as constitutively emitted volatiles, microorganisms can emit induced volatiles that are triggered by biological interactions or environmental cues. In this Review, we highlight recent discoveries concerning microbial volatile compounds and their roles in intra-kingdom microbial interactions and inter-kingdom interactions with plants and insects. Furthermore, we indicate the potential biotechnological applications of microbial volatiles and discuss challenges and perspectives in this emerging research field.

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Fig. 1: Volatile derivatives of primary metabolism.
Fig. 2: Volatile aromatic compounds and sulfur-containing compounds.
Fig. 3: Volatile formation via the fatty acid biosynthetic pathway.
Fig. 4: Biosynthesis of volatile terpenes.
Fig. 5: Major biosynthetic pathways of microbial volatile organic compounds.
Fig. 6: Modes of diffusion of microbial volatiles and responses in microorganisms, plants and animals to their exposure.

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Acknowledgements

The Netherlands Institute of Ecology (NIOO‐KNAW) publication number is 7063. Support from the Swiss National Science Foundation (grant 179310 to L.W.) and the Netherlands Science Foundation (NWO-VIDI grant 864.11.015 to P.G.) is gratefully acknowledged.

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Correspondence to Paolina Garbeva.

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Glossary

Hydration sphere

The solvent or water interface of any chemical compound.

Terpene pathway

A sequence of chemical reactions in a living organism leading to the production of terpenes.

Pyrazines

A group of organic aromatic compounds having a six-member ring in which the first and fourth atoms are nitrogen atoms and the rest are carbon atoms.

Sesquiterpenes

A class of terpenes with 15 carbons that formally consist of three isoprene units, often with the molecular formula C15H24.

Damping-off disease

A horticultural disease caused by several different pathogens that kill or weaken seeds or seedlings before or after they germinate.

Olfactory cues

Signals that can be extracted from the sensory input by a perceiver, indicating the state of some property of the world that the perceiver is interested in perceiving.

DA2 glomerules

Spherical structures located in the olfactory bulb of the brain.

Electroantennography

A technique for measuring the average nerve output of an insect antenna for a given odour.

Carrion

The decaying flesh of dead animals.

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Weisskopf, L., Schulz, S. & Garbeva, P. Microbial volatile organic compounds in intra-kingdom and inter-kingdom interactions. Nat Rev Microbiol 19, 391–404 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41579-020-00508-1

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