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Identifying the genetic changes that impact lipid production in microalgae

Algenuity, Spicer Consulting Limited and Rothamsted Research (RRES) were awarded SPARK funding in 2013 to perform a lipidomics screen of a Chlorella sp insertional gene trap strain bank.

Microalgae represent commercial opportunities with regard to the breadth of biomolecules that they naturally produce as well as their comparatively rapid growth cycles and their relatively simple growth requirements, including their ability to grow in wastewater and to use other waste inputs.

Our capacity to improve microalgae for purpose, however, has been restricted to only a number of laboratory based strains. This has limited the commercial potential offered by this group of organisms within an industrial biotech context.

In this project the partners have successfully demonstrated a rapid path to microalgal lipid profile engineering using a new forward genetics approach in a rapidly growing microalgal strain that has historically resisted attempts at engineering.

An insertional strain bank was established in Chlorella sorokiniana and screened by GC/MS-FAME to identify strains with significant changes in relative fatty acid abundance. Strains were successfully identified that had highly significant alterations in their lipid profiles including a strain with an 80% increase in relative palmitic acid (16:0) abundance, a strain with a 300-400% increase in monounsaturated fatty acids (16:1 and 18:1) and strains with modest increases (30%) in polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), mainly in the form of 18:3 n-3.

One or more of these strains may represent new opportunities for production of desired blends of lipids for industrial application including cosmetics, lubricants and animal feeds. By identifying the genetic changes that have resulted in these altered fatty acid profiles our understanding of the various regulatory pathways that impact lipid production in microalgae will be significantly increased.


Source: Summary SPARK report provided by the project partners

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