Metabolomics and proteomics reveal impacts of chemically mediated competition on marine plankton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle


  • Kelsey L. Poulson-Ellestad
  • Christina M. Jones
  • Jessie Roy
  • Facundo M. Fernández
  • Julia Kubanek
  • Brook L. Nunn

Colleges, School and Institutes

External organisations

  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • University of Birmingham, School of Biosciences, UK
  • School of Biology, Aquatic Chemical Ecology Center, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Institute of Bioengineering and Biosciences, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Department of Genome Sciences, University of Washington


Competition is a major force structuring marine planktonic communities. The release of compounds that inhibit competitors, a process known as allelopathy, may play a role in the maintenance of large blooms of the red-tide dinoflagellate Karenia brevis, which produces potent neurotoxins that negatively impact coastal marine ecosystems. K. brevis is variably allelopathic to multiple competitors, typically causing sublethal suppression of growth. We used metabolomic and proteomic analyses to investigate the role of chemically mediated ecological interactions between K. brevis and two diatom competitors, Asterionellopsis glacialis and Thalassiosira pseudonana. The impact of K. brevis allelopathy on competitor physiology was reflected in the metabolomes and expressed proteomes of both diatoms, although the diatom that co-occurs with K. brevis blooms (A. glacialis) exhibited more robust metabolism in response to K. brevis. The observed partial resistance of A. glacialis to allelopathy may be a result of its frequent exposure to K. brevis blooms in the Gulf of Mexico. For the more sensitive diatom, T. pseudonana , which may not have had opportunity to evolve resistance to K. brevis, allelopathy disrupted energy metabolism and impeded cellular protection mechanisms including altered cell membrane components, inhibited osmoregulation, and increased oxidative stress. Allelopathic compounds appear to target multiple physiological pathways in sensitive competitors, demonstrating that chemical cues in the plankton have the potential to alter large-scale ecosystem processes including primary production and nutrient cycling.


Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)9009-9014
Number of pages6
JournalNational Academy of Sciences. Proceedings
Issue number24
Publication statusPublished - 17 Jun 2014


  • Chemical ecology, Mass spectrometry, Systems biology

ASJC Scopus subject areas