18 Fungal and Bacterial Volatile Organic Compounds: An Overview and Their Role as Ecological Signaling Agents

  • J. W. BennettEmail author
  • R. Hung
  • S. Lee
  • S. Padhi
Part of the The Mycota book series (MYCOTA, volume 9)


Both fungi and bacteria emit many volatile organic compounds (VOCs) as mixtures of low molecular mass alcohols, aldehydes, esters, terpenoids, thiols, and other small molecules that easily volatilize. Most determination (separation and identification) of VOCs now relies on gas chromatography–mass spectrometry (GC-MS) but developments in “electronic nose” technology promise to revolutionize the field. Microbial VOC profiles are both complex and dynamic: the compounds produced and their abundance vary with the producing species, the age of the colony, water availability, the substrate, the temperature, and other environmental parameters. The single most commonly reported volatile from fungi is 1-octen-3-ol which is a breakdown product of linoleic acid. It functions as a hormone within many fungal species, serves as both an attractant and deterrent for certain species of arthropods, and exhibits toxicity at relatively low concentrations in model systems. Bacterial and fungal VOCs have been studied by scientists from a broad range of subdisciplines in both theoretical and applied contexts. VOCs are exploited for their food and flavor properties, their use as indirect indicators of microbial growth, their ability to stimulate plant growth, and their ability to attract insect pests. Because these compounds can diffuse a long way from their point of origin, they are excellent chemical signaling molecules (semiochemicals) in non-aqueous habitats and facilitate the ability of microbes to engage in “chemical conversations.” The physiological effects of bacterial and fungal VOCs in host–pathogen relationships and in mediating interspecific associations in natural ecosystem functioning is an emerging frontier for future research.


Electronic Nose Sick Building Syndrome Fungal Secondary Metabolite Fruit Body Development Bacterial Volatile 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



We thank Arati Inamdar, James Mauro, Prakash Masurekar, Shannon Morath, David Pu, and Alisa Schink for their intellectual insights on fungal VOCs; we thank Natalie Naranjo and Shannon Morath for their help with the references, Karl Esser for his mentorship, Berthold Hock for his editorial support, and the Rutgers University Research Fund for financial support.


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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Plant Biology and PathologyRutgers UniversityNew BrunswickUSA

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