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Variation of chemical composition of essential oils in wild populations of Thymus algeriensis Boiss. et Reut., a North African endemic Species

Nacim Zouari1*, Imen Ayadi2, Nahed Fakhfakh3, Ahmed Rebai2 and Sami Zouari4

Author Affiliations

1 Laboratoire de Biochimie et de Génie Enzymatique des Lipases, Ecole Nationale d'Ingénieurs de Sfax, BP 1173, 3038 Sfax, Tunisia

2 Laboratoire de Microorganismes et de Biomolécules, Equipe de criblage moléculaire et cellulaire, Centre de Biotechnologie de Sfax, BP 1177, 3018 Sfax, Tunisia

3 Laboratoire de Génie Enzymatique et de Microbiologie, Ecole Nationale d'Ingénieurs de Sfax (ENIS), BP 1173, 3038 Sfax, Tunisia

4 Laboratoire d'Ecologie Pastorale, Institut des Régions Arides, 4119 Médenine, Tunisia

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Lipids in Health and Disease 2012, 11:28  doi:10.1186/1476-511X-11-28

Published: 20 February 2012



Thymus algeriensis is an endemic aromatic plant to Tunisia largely used in folk medicine and as a culinary herb. The bulks aromatic plants come from wild populations whose essential oils compositions as well as their biological properties are severely affected by the geographical location and the phase of the plant development. Therefore, the aim of the present work is to provide more information on the variation of essential oil composition of T. algeriensis collected during the vegetative and the flowering phases and from eight different geographical regions. Besides, influence of population location and phenological stage on yield and metal chelating activity of essential oils is also assessed.


The essential oil composition of Thymus algeriensis was determined mainly by GC/FID and GC/MS. The chemical differentiation among populations performed on all compounds was assessed by linear discriminate analysis and cluster analysis based on Euclidean distance.


A total of 71 compounds, representing 88.99 to 99.76% of the total oil, were identified. A significant effect of the population location on the chemical composition variability of T. algeriensis oil was observed. Only 18 out of 71 compounds showed a statistically significant variation among population locations and phenological stages. Chemical differentiation among populations was high. Minor compounds play an important role to distinguish between chemical groups. Five chemotypes according to the major compounds have been distinguished. Chemotypes distribution is linked to the population location and not to bioclimate, indicating that local selective environmental factors acted on the chemotype diversity.


The major compounds at the species level were α-pinene (7.41-13.94%), 1,8-cineole (7.55-22.07%), cis-sabinene hydrate (0.10-12.95%), camphor (6.8-19.93%), 4-terpineol (1.55-11.86%), terpenyl acetate (0-14.92%) and viridiflorol (0-11.49%). Based on major compounds, the populations were represented by (α-pinene/1,8-cineole/cis-sabinene hydrate/camphor/viridiflorol), (1,8-cineole/camphor/terpenyl acetate), (α-pinene/1,8-cineole/camphor), (1,8-cineole/camphor/4-terpineol) and (α-pinene/1,8-cineole/cis-sabinene hydrate/camphor/4-terpineol) chemotypes. Variation of phenological stage did not have a statistically significant effect on the yield and metal chelating activity of the essential oil. These results can be used to investigate the geographical location and the harvesting time of this plant for relevant industries.

Thymus algeriensis; Biodiversity; Essential oil; Chemical composition; Discriminant analysis