The establishment and maintenance of the symbiosis between a cnidarian host and its dinoflagellate symbionts is central to the success of coral reefs. To explore the metabolite production underlying this symbiosis, we focused on a group of low molecular weight secondary metabolites, biogenic volatile organic compounds (BVOCs). BVOCs are released from an organism or environment, and can be collected in the gas phase, allowing non-invasive analysis of an organism's metabolism (i.e. ‘volatilomics’). We characterised volatile profiles of the sea anemone Aiptasia (Exaiptasia diaphana), a model system for cnidarian–dinoflagellate symbiosis, using comprehensive two-dimensional gas chromatography coupled with time-of-flight mass spectrometry. We compared volatile profiles between: (1) symbiotic anemones containing their native symbiont, Breviolum minutum; (2) aposymbiotic anemones; and (3) cultured isolates of B. minutum. Overall, 152 BVOCs were detected, and classified into 14 groups based on their chemical structure, the most numerous groups being alkanes and aromatic compounds. A total of 53 BVOCs were differentially abundant between aposymbiotic anemones and B. minutum cultures; 13 between aposymbiotic and symbiotic anemones; and 60 between symbiotic anemones and cultures of B. minutum. More BVOCs were differentially abundant between cultured and symbiotic dinoflagellates than between aposymbiotic and symbiotic anemones, suggesting that symbiosis may modify symbiont physiology more than host physiology. This is the first volatilome analysis of the Aiptasia model system and provides a foundation from which to explore how BVOC production is perturbed under environmental stress, and ultimately the role they play in this important symbiosis.

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