Effect of ammonium and high light intensity on the accumulation of lipids in Nannochloropsis oceanica (CCAP 849/10) and Phaeodactylum tricornutum (CCAP 1055/1).09 Apr 2018
BACKGROUND: Microalgae accumulate lipids when exposed to stressful conditions such as nutrient limitation that can be used to generate biofuels. Nitrogen limitation or deprivation is a strategy widely employed to elicit this response. However, this strategy is associated with a reduction in the microalgal growth, leading to overall poor lipid productivities. Here, we investigated the combined effect of a reduced source of nitrogen (ammonium) and super-saturating light intensities on the growth and induction of lipid accumulation in two model but diverse microalgal species, Phaeodactylum tricornutum and Nannochloropsis oceanica. We hypothesized that the lower energy cost of assimilating ammonium would allow the organisms to use more reductant power for lipid biosynthesis without compromising growth and that this would be further stimulated by the effect of high light (1000 µmol m-2 s-1) stress. We studied the changes in growth and physiology of both species when grown in culture media that either contained nitrate or ammonium as the nitrogen source, and an additional medium that contained ammonium with tungsten in place of molybdenum and compared this with growth in media without nitrogen. We focused our investigation on the early stages of exposure to the treatments to correspond to events relevant to induction of lipid accumulation in these two species. RESULTS: At super-saturating light intensities, lipid productivity in P. tricornutum increased twofold when grown in ammonium compared to nitrogen free medium that increased further when tungsten was present in the medium in place of molybdenum. Conversely, N. oceanica growth and physiology was not compromised by the high light intensities used, and the use of ammonium had a negative effect on the lipid productivity, which was even more marked when tungsten was present. CONCLUSIONS: Whilst the use of ammonium and super-saturating light intensities in P. tricornutum was revealed to be a good strategy for increasing lipid biosynthesis, no changes in the lipid productivity of N. oceanica were observed, under these conditions. Both results provide relevant direction for the better design of processes to produce biofuels in microalgae by manipulating growth conditions without the need to subject them to genetic engineering manipulation.