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Research article - Peer-reviewed, 2017

Nannochloropsis, a rich source of diacylglycerol acyltransferases for engineering of triacylglycerol content in different hosts

Zienkiewicz, Krzysztof; Zienkiewicz, Agnieszka; Poliner, Eric; Du, Zhi-Yan; Vollheyde, Katharina; Herrfurth, Cornelia; Marmon, Sofia; Farré, Eva M.; Feussner, Ivo; Benning, Christoph


Background: Photosynthetic microalgae are considered a viable and sustainable resource for biofuel feedstocks, because they can produce higher biomass per land area than plants and can be grown on non-arable land. Among many microalgae considered for biofuel production, Nannochloropsis oceanica (CCMP1779) is particularly promising, because following nutrient deprivation it produces very high amounts of triacylglycerols (TAG). The committed step in TAG synthesis is catalyzed by acyl-CoA: diacylglycerol acyltransferase (DGAT). Remarkably, a total of 13 putative DGAT-encoding genes have been previously identified in CCMP1779 but most have not yet been studied in detail.Results: Based on their expression profile, six out of 12 type-2 DGAT-encoding genes (NoDGTT1-NoDGTT6) were chosen for their possible role in TAG biosynthesis and the respective cDNAs were expressed in a TAG synthesis-deficient mutant of yeast. Yeast expressing NoDGTT5 accumulated TAG to the highest level. Over-expression of NoDGTT5 in CCMP1779 grown in N-replete medium resulted in levels of TAG normally observed only after N deprivation. Reduced growth rates accompanied NoDGTT5 over-expression in CCMP1779. Constitutive expression of NoDGTT5 in Arabidopsis thaliana was accompanied by increased TAG content in seeds and leaves. A broad substrate specificity for NoDGTT5 was revealed, with preference for unsaturated acyl groups. Furthermore, NoDGTT5 was able to successfully rescue the Arabidopsis tag1-1 mutant by restoring the TAG content in seeds.Conclusions: Taken together, our results identified NoDGTT5 as the most promising gene for the engineering of TAG synthesis in multiple hosts among the 13 DGAT-encoding genes of N. oceanica CCMP1779. Consequently, this study demonstrates the potential of NoDGTT5 as a tool for enhancing the energy density in biomass by increasing TAG content in transgenic crops used for biofuel production.


Nannochloropsis oceanica; Microalgae; DGAT; Triacylglycerol; Lipid storage; Lipid droplets

Published in

Biotechnology for Biofuels
2017, Volume: 10, article number: 8

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG7 Affordable and clean energy

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
    Renewable Bioenergy Research

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