Biosynthesis of Triacylglycerol Molecules in Industrial Microalgae

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Researchers from Chinese Academy of Sciences found two novel fatty acid-preferring enzymes that discriminate individual fatty acid species in triacylglycerol assembly

Composition of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) in triacylglycerols (TAGs) plays a major role in maintaining health and application areas of oils. However, regulation of PUFAs is less understood. Molecules of TAG that are formed by attaching three molecules of PUFAs to a glycerol backbone are the main constituents of vegetable oil in plants and fats in animals and humans. TAG is important for cellular metabolism and acts as a universal storage form and currency of energy as its energy density is greater than carbohydrates or proteins.

The health benefit of TAGs is dependent on which fatty acid comprises the molecule. For instance, linoleic acid (LA) can lower blood cholesterols and prevent atherosclerosis, whereas eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) can aid in treatment of hypertension and inflammation. Now, a team of researchers led by Prof. XU Jian from the Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology (QIBEBT), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), set to determine whether fatty acid composition of TAGs can be customized to create TAGs that carry tailored health benefits. The team found two novel diacylglyceryl transferases (DGAT2s) that preferentially attach LA and EPA, respectively, to the glycerol backbone to form TAGs.

The team modulated the ratio of these specialist enzymes in the cell to create a strain bank of the industrial oleaginous microalga Nannochloropsis oceanica where the proportions of LA and EPA in TAGs varied by 18.7- and 34.7-fold, respectively. LA and EPA are both important fatty acids for human health. These fatty acids play a major role in human metabolism. However, human genomes do not encode the enzymes that directly synthesize these fatty acids. Therefore, humans have to consume LA and EPA through plant or animal TAGs. According to the researchers, the discovery of novel DGATs that selectively assemble LA and EPA into microalgal TAGs facilitates large scale production of tailored TAGs that are present in nature or synthesized for personalized health benefits. The research was published in the journal Molecular Plant on December 13, 2018.

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