Can algae talk? “Well, although they don’t have any mouth or ears, algae still communicate with their own kind and with other organisms in their surroundings. They do this with volatile organic substances they release into the water,” says Dr. Patrick Fink, a water ecologist at the UFZ’s Magdeburg site.
These chemical signals are known as BVOCs (biogenic volatile organic compounds) and are the equivalent of odors in the air with which flowering plants communicate and attract their pollinators. When under attack by parasites, some plant species release odors that attract the parasites’ natural enemies to them.
“Algae also employ such interactions and protective mechanisms,” says Fink. “After all, they are among the oldest organisms on Earth, and chemical communication is the most original form of exchanging information in evolutionary history. However, our knowledge in this area still remains very fragmentary.”
An example from the ocean: A diatom bloom represents a true feast for copepods. This rich offering of nutrients should ensure that their population subsequently grows. However, this is not the case.
“Although the copepods are well nourished, their spawn that they carry with them in their egg sack is at serious risk. Because the BVOCS from the diatoms impede cell division and thus disrupt embryonic development,” Fink explains “In this way, the diatoms prevent excessive predation on their descendants—thereby ensuring the preservation of their kind.”
“As the primary producers, algae form the basis of life of all aquatic food webs,” says Fink. “It is therefore important that we learn to better understand the chemical communication of algae and their basic functional relationships in aquatic ecosystems.”
The authors believe that increased understanding of the language of algae could also have useful technical applications, such as in using chemical signals to deter parasites, thereby reducing the use of pharmaceuticals in aquaculture. A better understanding of the chemical communication paths is also important to enable the development of more efficient environmental strategies.Complete article at Phys.org.
Communication implies the purposeful interchange of information. How does intentionality arise from natural interactions between atoms?