Journal of Chemical Ecology

, Volume 23, Issue 6, pp 1527–1547

Multiple Functions for Secondary Metabolites in Encrusting Marine Invertebrates


  • Mikel A. Becerro
    • Centre for Advanced Studies (C. S. I. C.)
  • Xavier Turon
    • Department of Animal Biology, Faculty of BiologyUniversity of Barcelona
  • Maria J. Uriz
    • Centre for Advanced Studies (C. S. I. C.)

DOI: 10.1023/B:JOEC.0000006420.04002.2e

Cite this article as:
Becerro, M.A., Turon, X. & Uriz, M.J. J Chem Ecol (1997) 23: 1527. doi:10.1023/B:JOEC.0000006420.04002.2e


We used three chemical fractions (spanning a wide range of polarities) from the extracts of four marine invertebrates, the spongesCrambe crambe andHemimycale columella and the ascidiansCystodytes dellechiajei andPolysyncraton lacazei, to test inhibition of cell division, photosynthesis, and settlement. We used assay organisms from the same habitat, seeking to determine whether a species may display diverse, ecologically relevant bioac-tivities and, if so, whether the same types of compound may be responsible for such activities. Cell division was strongly inhibited by the spongeC. crambe. A dichloromethane fraction fromC. crambe prevented development of sea urchinParacentrotus lividus eggs at a concentration of 10 μg/ml, as did the butanolic fraction, but at higher concentrations (50 and 100 μg/ml). At 50 μg/ml, the aqueous fraction ofC. crambe allowed cell division but prevented eggs from developing beyond the gastrula stage. Similar results were recorded with the dichloromethane fraction ofP. lacazei and from the aqueous fraction ofH. columella. Photosynthesis was unaffected by any of the species at 50 μg/ml. Larval settlement was inhibited by one or another fraction from the four species surveyed at a concentration of 50 μg/ml, althoughC. crambe exhibited the greatest amount of activity. We therefore found that various fractions displayed the same type of bioactivity, while compounds from the same fraction were responsible for multiple activities, suggesting that secondary metabolites are multiple-purpose tools in nature, which is relevant to our understanding of species ecology and evolution. Moreover, results showed that the assessment of the role of chemical compounds is significantly influenced by the assay organism, fractionation procedure, concentration, and duration of experiments. All these factors should be carefully considered when testing ecological hypotheses of the roles of chemically-mediated bioactivities.

Secondary metaboliteschemical defenseevolutionascidianssponges
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© Plenum Publishing Corporation 1997