here they may interfere with the communication systems of other brown algae (11) or act as feeding deterrents against herbivores (12). Thus, a single C11 hydrocarbon (Table 1) may have at least three well-defined biological functions: (i) synchronization of the mating of male and female cells by the controlled release of male spermatozoids, (ii) enhancement of the mating efficiency by attraction, and (iii) chemical defense of the plant due to the presence of high amounts of pheromones within and release from the thalli into the environment.
Interestingly, the occurrence of the C11 hydrocarbons is not limited to the order of the marine brown algae. The same compounds have been found in cultures of diatoms (13) or among the volatiles released during blooms of microalgae in freshwater lakes (14). Furthermore, there is a steadily increasing number of reports on the occurrence of C11 hydrocarbons in roots, leaves, blossoms, or fruits of higher plants (15-17), although no attempts have been made to attribute a specific biological function to the C11 hydrocarbons in these higher plants.
This review tries to summarize our present knowledge of the chemistry of the pheromones of marine brown algae. The biochemical aspects of signal perception and transduction as well as the species-specific recognition of male and female gametes will be not discussed. The major topics will be the demonstration of the structural diversity in this group of C11 hydrocarbons, the different modes of their biosynthesis in lower and higher plants, and, finally, their (a)biotic degradation in an aqueous environment.
Since the isolation and characterization of ectocarpene as the first volatile pheromone of a brown alga, 10 additional bioactive compounds have been isolated from female gametes or eggs of brown algae (Table 1). The isolation technique exploits the volatility of the compounds by collecting them in a closed system with a continuously circulating stream of air, which is passed over a very small carbon trap (1.5-5 mg) (18). Solvent desorbtion of the carbon with CH2Cl2 or CS2 (˜30 µl) provides solutions of the volatiles suitable for analysis by combined gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. A complex pattern of volatiles, obtained from fertile female gynogametes of the Mediterranean phaeophyte Cutleria multifida, is shown in Figure 1 (19). The identification of the individual compounds follows from mass spectrometry and from comparison with synthetic reference compounds (2). The biological activity of the identified compounds is assayed by exposing microdroplets of a water immiscible, high density solvent with known concentrations of the compounds to male gametes in sea water (20). After 4 min in the dark, the