Low Molecular Weight Volatile Organic Compounds Indicate Grazing by the Marine Rotifer Brachionus plicatilis on the Microalgae Microchloropsis salina

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Microalgae produce specific chemicals indicative of stress and/or death. The aim of this study was to perform non-destructive monitoring of algal culture systems, in the presence and absence of grazers, to identify potential biomarkers of incipient pond crashes. Here, we report ten volatile organic compounds (VOCs) that are robustly generated by the marine alga, Microchloropsis salina, in the presence and/or absence of the marine grazer, Brachionus plicatilis. We cultured M. salina with and without B. plicatilis and collected in situ volatile headspace samples using thermal desorption tubes over the course of several days. Data from four experiments were aggregated, deconvoluted, and chromatographically aligned to determine VOCs with tentative identifications made via mass spectral library matching. VOCs generated by algae in the presence of actively grazing rotifers were confirmed via pure analytical standards to be pentane, 3-pentanone, 3-methylhexane, and 2-methylfuran. Six other VOCs were less specifically associated with grazing but were still commonly observed between the four replicate experiments. Through this work, we identified four biomarkers of rotifer grazing that indicate algal stress/death. This will aid machine learning algorithms to chemically define and diagnose algal mass production cultures and save algae cultures from imminent crash to make biofuel an alternative energy possibility.





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