Daily bursts of biogenic cyanogen bromide (BrCN) control biofilm formation around a marine benthic diatom

Bart Vanelslander, Carsten Paul, Jan Grueneberg, Emily K. Prince, Jeroen Gillard, Koen Sabbe, Georg Pohnert, Wim Vyverman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

57 Scopus citations


The spatial organization of biofilms is strongly regulated by chemical cues released by settling organisms. However, the exact nature of these interactions and the repertoire of chemical cues and signals that micro-organisms produce and exude in response to the presence of competitors remain largely unexplored. Biofilms dominated by microalgae often show remarkable, yet unexplained finescale patchy variation in species composition. Because this occurs even in absence of abiotic heterogeneity, antagonistic interactions might play a key role. Here we show that a marine benthic diatom produces chemical cues that cause chloroplast bleaching, a reduced photosynthetic efficiency, growth inhibition and massive cell death in naturally co-occurring competing microalgae. Using headspace solid phase microextraction (HS-SPME)-GC-MS, we demonstrate that this diatom exudes a diverse mixture of volatile iodinated and brominated metabolites including the natural product cyanogen bromide (BrCN), which exhibits pronounced allelopathic activity. Toxin production is light-dependent with a short BrCN burst after sunrise. BrCN acts as a short-term signal, leading to daily "cleaning"events around the algae.We show that allelopathic effects are H 2O 2dependent and link BrCN production to haloperoxidase activity. This strategy is a highly effective means of biofilm control and may provide an explanation for the poorly understood role of volatile halocarbons from marine algae, which contribute significantly to the atmospheric halocarbon budget.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2412-2417
Number of pages6
JournalProceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Issue number7
StatePublished - Feb 14 2012
Externally publishedYes


  • Allelopathy
  • Chemical ecology
  • Marine ecology
  • Signal molecule

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General


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