• Abbreviations:H2O2;
  • hydrogen peroxide;
  • H2DCF-DA;
  • 2′;
  • 7′-dichlorofluorescin-diacetate

Gracilaria conferta (Schousboe ex Montagne) J. et G. Feldmann responded with an oxidative burst and rapid increases in respiration and halogenating activity when agar, agarose, or the agarose degradation products neoagarotetraose and neoagarohexaose were added to the growth medium. In contrast, carrageenan, oligocarrageenans, neoagarobiose, l-galactose, d-galactose, and several other mono- and oligosaccharides did not have any effect. Sixfold increases in respiration were observed 3 min after addition of neoagarohexaose. The response could only be induced in species of the genera Gracilaria and Gracilariopsis. Neoagarohexaose also elicited a release of hydrogen peroxide in less than 15 min, resulting in an immediate increase in algal brominating activity. Bleached thallus tips appeared a few hours after the addition of neoagarohexaose. This effect was dependent on the release of hydrogen peroxide and exposure to light. Exposure to light and oligosaccharide elicitors increased the production of reactive oxygen species, which reached destructive concentrations when both mechanisms were simultaneously active. Concentrations of 0.1 to 3.3 μM agarose or agars were sufficient to trigger an increase in respiration, an oxidative burst response, and tip bleaching. However, higher concentrations of neoagarohexaose and neoagarotetraose were necessary to elicit the responses, indicating that the alga is more sensitive to oligoagars with degrees of biose-polymerization > 3. The extremely short reaction time and high specificity indicate that intermediates of agar degradation are recognized by Gracilaria as messengers when microbial degradation of its cell wall occurs. The physiological responses may represent the early stages of algal defense mechanisms involved in repression of pathogen ingress.