Many marine invertebrates deposit benthic egg masses that are potentially vulnerable to microbial infection. To help counter this threat these species may have evolved some form of chemical protection for their encapsulated embryos. In this study the egg masses from 7 marine mollusks were tested for antibacterial activity against 4 marine pathogens: Enterococcus sericolicida, Vibrio anguillarum, Vibrio alginolyticus, and Vibrio harveyi. Extracts from all of these egg masses were found to inhibit the growth of at least 1 marine bacterium at concentrations that approximate the natural concentration of extract in the egg masses. The egg masses of 39 mollusks and 4 polychaetes were then tested for antibacterial activity against 3 human pathogenic bacteria; Escherichia coli, Staphylococcus aureus, and Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Activity was detected in the egg masses from 34 species, including 2 polychaetes and mollusks from two classes and 18 families. Antibacterial activity in molluskan egg masses was found to extend across the marine, estuarine, freshwater, and terrestrial environments. Both gelatinous egg masses and tough egg capsules were found to inhibit microbial growth, suggesting that physical protection alone may not be sufficient to protect the eggs. Antimicrobial activity was observed in the fresh egg masses but not in the well-developed egg masses of a subset of species. The results of this study indicate that a wide range of invertebrates use chemical defense to protect their early stage embryos against bacterial infection.
Benkendorff, K, Davis, AR, & Bremner, JB 2001, 'Chemical defense in the egg masses of benthic invertebrates: An assessment of antibacterial activity in 39 mollusks and 4 polychaetes', Journal of Invertebrate Pathology, vol. 78, no. 2, pp. 109-118.
Publisher's version of this article is available at http://dx.doi.org/10.1006/jipa.2001.5047