To improve the economic viability of microalgal biodiesel, it will be essential to optimize the productivity of fuel molecules such as triacylglyceride (TAG) within the microalgal cell. To understand some of the triggers required for the metabolic switch to TAG production, we studied the effect of the carbon supply (acetate or CO2) in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii (wild type and the starchless sta6 mutant) grown under low N availability. As expected, initial rates of TAG production were much higher when acetate was present than under strictly photosynthetic conditions, particularly for the sta6 mutant, which cannot allocate resources to starch. However, in both strains, TAG production plateaued after a few days in mixotrophic cultures, whereas under autotrophic conditions, TAG levels continued to rise. Moreover, the reduced growth of the sta6 mutant meant that the greatest productivity (measured as mg TAG liter-1 day-1) was found in the wild type growing autotrophically. Wild-type cells responded to low N by autophagy, as shown by degradation of polar (membrane) lipids and loss of photosynthetic pigments, and this was less in cells supplied with acetate. In contrast, little or no autophagy was observed in sta6 mutant cells, regardless of the carbon supply. Instead, very high levels of free fatty acids were observed in the sta6 mutant, suggesting considerable alteration in metabolism. These measurements show the importance of carbon supply and strain selection for lipid productivity. Our findings will be of use for industrial cultivation, where it will be preferable to use fast-growing wild-type strains supplied with gaseous CO2 under autotrophic conditions rather than require an exogenous supply of organic carbon.
- lipid synthesis
- gas chromatography