Volatile organic compound mediated interactions at the plant-microbe interface

J Chem Ecol. 2013 Jul;39(7):810-25. doi: 10.1007/s10886-013-0325-9. Epub 2013 Jul 24.


Microorganisms colonize the surfaces of plant roots, leaves, and flowers known as the rhizosphere, phyllosphere, and anthosphere. These spheres differ largely in a number of factors that may determine the ability of microbes to establish themselves and to grow in these habitats. In this article, we focus on volatile organic compounds (VOCs) emitted by plants, and we discuss their effects on microbial colonizers, with an emphasis on bacteria. We present examples of how growth-inhibiting properties and mechanisms of VOCs such as terpenoids, benzenoid compounds, aliphatics, and sulfur containing compounds prevent bacterial colonization at different spheres, in antagonism with their role as carbon-sources that support the growth of different bacterial taxa. The notion that VOCs represent important factors that define bacterial niches is further supported by results for representatives of two bacterial genera that occupy strongly diverging niches based on scent emissions of different plant species and organs. Bacteria are known to either positively or negatively affect plant fitness and to interfere with plant-animal interactions. Thus, bacteria and other microbes may select for VOCs, enabling plants to control microbial colonizers on their surfaces, thereby promoting the growth of mutualists and preventing the establishment of detrimental microbes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Ecosystem
  • Magnoliopsida / metabolism
  • Magnoliopsida / microbiology*
  • Volatile Organic Compounds / metabolism*


  • Volatile Organic Compounds