Engineering of industrial microalgae to produce them

A mechanistic model for NoDGAT2s-mediated MCT synthesis in N. Oceanica

Image: The functional specialization of NoDGAT2s in the chain length of substrates and products reveals previously unknown remote control for cellular TAG profile, which can be exploited to produce customizable oils in microalgae.
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Credit: LIU Yang

The genetic talent of marine microalgae has now been unlocked, to produce medium-chain triglycerides, a type of vegetable oil with a variety of health benefits, according to a study led by researchers from the Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology (QIBEBT). ), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS).

This study was published in plant physics On August 30th.

These biological oils, called triglycerol, are the main form of energy storage in cells and are found in all vegetable oils and animal fats – but they’re not created equal.

Each triglycerol molecule consists of three fatty acid moieties anchored in a glycerol scaffold. Depending on the fatty acid chain length, each molecule can be classified as long-chain triacylglycerol or medium-chain triacylglycerol (MCT), which is distinguished in its field of application, economic value and market potential.

“During digestion, MCTs are converted into medium-chain fatty acids, which bypass adipose tissue, reducing the chance of them turning into adipose tissue,” said XU Jian, professor in the QIBEBT Single Cell Center. It also increases energy intake, fat oxidation, satiety and reduces energy and food intake in lean and obese individuals.

The issue is availability. MCT oil can only be made by processing palm and coconut plant oils, both of which are restricted to growing in tropical and subtropical regions.

“Moreover, only about 3% of the entire plant mass is stored in oil form, so we need more efficient and versatile raw materials,” said XIN Yi, associate professor at the Single Cell Center, explaining that limited availability has hampered MCT exploration of the product. Widely.

marine algae Nannochloropsis Oceanica It attracted great interest in the research community due to its high photosynthetic growth potential and rich oil content, but was generally found to contain only 0.01% to 0.05% of MCTs. Despite this low content, genetic analysis previously revealed evidence of an indigenous MCT assembly mechanism in this microalgae.

In this study, researchers in microalgae discovered two specific enzymes dedicated to synthesizing medium-chain fatty acids. These two highly talented enzymes, when stacked with additional enzymes that feed the substrates of the specialized MCT assembly machinery, can raise MCT yield by 64.8-fold in the peak phase of oil production.

This functional specialization of these proteins in the determination of the chain length of products reveals a previously unknown distance to the control of cellular triacylglycerol, which can be exploited to produce customizable oils in microalgae.

The researchers plan to further enhance MCT production through genetic manipulation of the molecules to halt degradation, control how long fatty acids can be and increase total triglyceride content.

“These efforts should boost cellular MCT production and accelerate the engineering of industrial microalgae into an efficient and sustainable feedstock for customizable oils,” said Hu Chunxiu, associate professor at CAS’s Dalian Institute of Chemical Physics (DICP).

This work was supported by the National Research and Development Programme, the DICP-QIBEBT Joint Innovation Program and the National Natural Science Foundation of China.


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