"The alga is marshalling its defenses and displaying them in a way that blocks the entry points for microbes that might invade and cause disease," Kubanek said. "Seaweeds don't have immune responses like humans do. But instead, they have some chemical compounds in their tissues to protect them."
Though all the seaweed they studied was from a single species, the researchers were surprised to find two distinct groups of antifungal chemicals. From one seaweed subpopulation, dubbed the "bushy" type for its appearance, 23 different antifungal compounds were identified. In a second group of seaweed, the researchers found 10 different antifungal compounds all different from the ones seen in the first group.
In the DESI-MS technique, a charged stream of polar solvent is directed at the surface of a sample under study at ambient pressure and temperature. The spray desorbs molecules, which are then ionized and delivered to the mass spectrometer for analysis.
"Our collaborative team of researchers from the Department of Biomedical Engineering and the College of Sciences has worked within the Bioimaging Mass Spectrometry Center at Georgia Tech to better understand the mechanisms of chemical defenses in marine organisms," said Fernandez. "This is an example of cross-cutting interdisciplinary research that characterizes our institute."
Kubanek is hopeful that other useful compounds will emerge from the study of signaling compounds in the coral reef community.
"In the natural world, we have seaweed that is making these molecules and we have fungi that are trying to colonize, infect and perhaps use the seaweed as a substrate for its own growth," Kubanek said. "The seaweed uses these molecules to try to prevent the fungus
|Contact: John Toon|
Georgia Institute of Technology Research News