Free fatty acids and sterols in the benthic spawn of aquatic molluscs, and their associated antimicrobial properties

Kirsten Benkendorff, Flinders University
Andrew R. Davis, University of Wollongong
Cary N. Rogers, University of Wollongong
John B. Bremner, University of Wollongong


The free lipid content of extracts from the spawn of 17 molluscs were analysed by gas chromatography/mass spectrometry. These extracts encompass the encapsulated embryos and extraembryonic structures from benthic gelatinous egg masses and leathery egg capsules covering five taxonomic groups. Palmitic and stearic acids were the dominant saturated fatty acids and oleic acid was the principal unsaturated acid found in the spawn. Cholesterol was the dominant sterol and the only sterol found in the spawn from every species. Extracts from gelatinous egg masses were found to contain proportionally more fatty acids compared to leathery egg capsules. No unsaturated fatty acids were found in any of the leathery egg capsules, including five neogastropods and one littorinimorph. Unsaturated fatty acids were present in all of the gelatinous egg masses, including two other littorinimorphs. This is the first study to demonstrate that unsaturated fatty acids possess significant bacteriolytic activity against four aquatic pathogens. Encapsulated Anaspidea egg masses contain relatively high concentrations of these unsaturated fatty acids and a lipid mixture modeled on these extracts was strongly bacteriolytic at concentrations down to 0.0001 mg/ml. By comparison, lipid mixtures modeled on extracts from the spawn of four other molluscan taxa with higher proportions of saturated fatty acid and cholesterol, were only partially active against some of the bacteria at 0.1 mg/ml. Thus, unsaturated fatty acids could explain the antimicrobial activity previously reported in lipid extracts of some, but not most, molluscan spawn. MDS ordination and ANOSIM revealed significant taxonomic differences in the composition of free lipids from molluscan spawn, suggesting that lipid analyses may be useful in future systematic studies of the Mollusca.