The Jekyll-and-Hyde chemistry of Phaeobacter gallaeciensis.
Emiliania huxleyi, an environmentally important marine microalga, has a bloom-and-bust lifestyle in which massive algal blooms appear and fade. Phaeobacter gallaeciensis belongs to the roseobacter clade of α-Proteobacteria, the populations of which wax and wane with that of E. huxleyi. Roseobacter are thought to promote algal growth by biosynthesizing and secreting antibiotics and growth stimulants (auxins). Here we show that P. gallaeciensis switches its secreted small molecule metabolism to the production of potent and selective algaecides, the roseobacticides, in response to p-coumaric acid, an algal lignin breakdown product that is symptomatic of aging algae. This switch converts P. gallaeciensis into an opportunistic pathogen of its algal host.