Max-Planck-Institut fur Chemische Okologie, Winzerlaer Strasse 10, D-07745 Jena, Germany. pohnert@ice.mpg.de The activation of oxylipin-based chemical defense in the diatom Thalassiosira rotula is initiated by phospholipases that act immediately after cell damage. This lipase activity is responsible for the preferential release of free mono- and polyunsaturated fatty acids. Among these, eicosatetraenoic- and eicosapentaenoic acid are further converted by lipoxygenases to reactive defensive metabolites such as the antiproliferative alpha,beta,gamma,delta-unsaturated aldehydes 2,4-decadienal and 2,4,7-decatrienal. We show that mainly saturated free fatty acids are present in the intact diatom T. rotula, whereas the amount of free polyunsaturated eicosanoids is drastically increased in the first minutes after wounding. Using fluorescent probes, the main enzyme activity responsible for initiation of the aldehyde-generating lipase/lipoxygenase/hydroperoxide lyase cascade was characterized as a phospholipase A2. All enzymes involved in this specific defensive reaction are active in seawater over several minutes. Thus, the mechanism allows the unicellular algae to overcome restrictions arising out of potential dilution of defensive metabolites. Only upon predation are high local concentrations of aldehydes formed in the vicinity of the herbivores, whereas in times of low stress, cellular resources can be invested in the formation of eicosanoid-rich phospholipids. In contrast to higher plants, which use lipases acting on galactolipids to release C18 fatty acids for production of leaf-volatile aldehydes, diatoms rely on phospholipids and the transformation of C20 fatty acids to form 2,4-decadienal and 2,4,7-decatrienal as an activated defense.