Competition for vitamin B1 (thiamin) structures numerous ecological interactions

Q Rev Biol. 2017 Jun;92(2):151-68. doi: 10.1086/692168.


Thiamin (vitamin B1) is a cofactor required for essential biochemical reactions in all living organisms, yet free thiamin is scarce in the environment. The diversity of biochemical pathways involved in the acquisition, degradation, and synthesis of thiamin indicates that organisms have evolved numerous ecological strategies for meeting this nutritional requirement. In this review we synthesize information from multiple disciplines to show how the complex biochemistry of thiamin influences ecological outcomes of interactions between organisms in environments ranging from the open ocean and the Australian outback to the gastrointestinal tract of animals. We highlight population and ecosystem responses to the availability or absence of thiamin. These include widespread mortality of fishes, birds, and mammals, as well as the thiamin-dependent regulation of ocean productivity. Overall, we portray thiamin biochemistry as the foundation for molecularly mediated ecological interactions that influence survival and abundance of a vast array of organisms.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Animals
  • Ecosystem*
  • Humans
  • Molecular Structure
  • Nutritional Requirements
  • Population Density
  • Thiamine / biosynthesis
  • Thiamine / chemistry
  • Thiamine / metabolism*
  • Thiamine Deficiency / metabolism
  • Thiamine Deficiency / physiopathology


  • Thiamine