Bacteria produce a multitude of volatile compounds. While the biological functions of these deceptively simple molecules are unknown in many cases, for compounds that have been characterized, it is clear that they serve impressively diverse purposes. Here, we highlight recent studies that are uncovering the volatile repertoire of bacteria, and the functional relevance and impact of these molecules. We present work showing the ability of volatile compounds to modulate nutrient availability in the environment; alter the growth, development, and motility of bacteria and fungi; influence protist and arthropod behavior; and impact plant and animal health. We further discuss the benefits associated with using volatile compounds for communication and competition, alongside the challenges of studying these molecules and their functional roles. Finally, we address the opportunities these compounds present from commercial, clinical, and agricultural perspectives.
Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Microbiology, Volume 74 is September 8, 2020. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/page/journal/pubdates for revised estimates.