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Sniffing on Microbes: Diverse Roles of Microbial Volatile Organic Compounds in Plant Health

August 2013 , Volume 26 , Number  8
Pages  835 - 843

Vasileios Bitas,1 Hye-Seon Kim,2 Joan W. Bennett,3 and Seogchan Kang1

1Department of Plant Pathology & Environmental Microbiology, The Pennsylvania State University, University Park 16802, U.S.A.; 2Department of Biological Sciences, University of Delaware, Newark 19711, U.S.A.; 3Department of Plant Biology and Pathology, Rutgers University, New Brunswick, NJ 08901, U.S.A.

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Accepted 3 April 2013.

Secreted proteins and metabolites play diverse and critical roles in organismal and organism–environment interactions. Volatile organic compounds (VOC) can travel far from the point of production through the atmosphere, porous soils, and liquid, making them ideal info-chemicals for mediating both short- and long-distance intercellular and organismal interactions. Critical ecological roles for animal- and plant-derived VOC in directing animal behaviors and for VOC as a language for plant-to-plant communication and regulators of various physiological processes have been well documented. Similarly, microbial VOC appear to be involved in antagonism, mutualism, intra- and interspecies regulation of cellular and developmental processes, and modification of their surrounding environments. However, the available knowledge of how microbial VOC affect other organisms is very limited. Evidence supporting diverse roles of microbial VOC with the focus on their impact on plant health is reviewed here. Given the vast diversity of microbes in nature and the critical importance of microbial communities associated with plants for their ecology and fitness, systematic exploration of microbial VOC and characterization of their biological functions and ecological roles will likely uncover novel mechanisms for controlling diverse biological processes critical to plant health and will also offer tangible practical benefits in addressing agricultural and environmental problems.

© 2013 The American Phytopathological Society