Introduction

The genus Caulerpa belonging to the Bryopsidophyceae consists of about 75 species, which are distributed worldwide in tropical and temperate regions (Fama et al., 2002). Caulerpa spp. are siphonous green algae with a unique cellular organisation. Despite the fact that members of this genus can reach several meters in length, the organisms are unicellular with giant differentiated cells (Menzel, 1988).

In recent years, this genus has attracted much attention because of Caulerpa taxifolia, which was termed 'killer alga' because of its invasive potential (Meinesz and Simberloff, 1999; Meinesz et al., 1995). C. taxifolia was introduced into the Mediterranean Sea in the late 1980s and, within a few years, it spread rapidly and started to affect coasts of at least six Mediterranean countries (Thibaut et al., 2001; Jousson et al., 1998). In the invaded areas, dense patches of C. taxifolia cover the sea floors, which affects massively the local flora and fauna. Invasive specimens from the same clone were also reported from California and Australia (Jousson et al., 2000; Anderson, 2005). Many eradication methods such as covering C. taxifolia meadows with dark-coloured plastic foils, treatment with algicides, heavy metals, dry ice or chlorine bleach have been applied so far (Williams and Schroeder, 2004; Uchimura et al., 2000). But these methods were only successful if small local patches of C. taxifolia were treated. However, large-scale applications of any technical solution in the Mediterranean Sea seem not to be feasible owing to the massive coverage of C. taxifolia. The specialised sea slug, Lobiger serradifalci, was considered to be used in the biological war against C. taxifolia. However, it was understood from laboratory experiments that L. serradifalci can divide C. taxifolia into small viable fragments that can re-grow, thereby even supporting the rapid proliferation of the alga (Zuljevic et al., 2001).

Another widely recognised member of the genus Caulerpa is Caulerpa race-mosa var. cylindracea. This species was first observed in 1926 in the Mediterranean Sea at Sousse harbour of Tunisia (Hamel, 1926). At that time, it was considered as a lessepsien migrant. C. racemosa did not show any invasive properties up to 1991. However, thereafter this species spread with massive growth rates and now it has been observed at the coastlines of 13 Mediterranean countries (Albania, Algeria, Croatia, Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, Libya, Malta, Monaco, Spain, Tunisia, Turkey) (Verlaque et al., 2003, M. Verlaque, 2003).

It is evident that an eradication of invasive Caulerpa spp. in the Mediterranean Sea or Australia is impossible, since large areas all along the coasts are affected. Nevertheless, Caulerpa spp. contain unique natural products and are sources for crude algal preparations, extracts and secondary metabolites with interesting activities. We believe that a commercially motivated harvesting paired with political management of this new resource might offer a chance to control these algae. In this chapter, we introduce the dominant secondary metabolites from the algae and highlight potential biotechnological and pharmaceutical applications of products derived from Caulerpa spp., thereby providing an outline of potential commercially interesting applications.

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