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Title: Nannochloropsis  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Plankton, Nannochloropsis and biofuels, Gelatinous zooplankton, Nanophytoplankton, Frustule
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia


Nannochloropsis viewed under a light microscope
Scientific classification
Domain: Eukaryota
Kingdom: Chromalveolata
Phylum: Heterokontophyta
Class: Eustigmatophyceae
Family: Eustigmataceae
Genus: Nannochloropsis
Hibberd, 1981

Nannochloropsis is a genus of alga comprising 6 known species. The genus in the current taxonomic classification was first termed by Hibberd (1981).[1] The species have mostly been known from the marine environment but also occur in fresh and brackish water.[2] All of the species are small, nonmotile spheres which do not express any distinct morphological feature, and cannot be distinguished by either light or electron microscopy. The characterisation is mostly done by rbcL gene and 18S rDNA sequence analysis.[3]

The algae of the genus Nannochloropsis differ from other related microalgae in that they have chlorophyll a and completely lack chlorophyll b and c. In addition they are able to build up a high concentrations of a range of pigments such as astaxanthin, zeaxanthin and canthaxanthin.[4] They have a diameter of about 2 to 3 micrometers[5] and a very simple ultrastructure with reduced structural elements compared to neighbouring taxa.

Nannochloropsis is considered a promising alga for industrial applications because of its ability to accumulate high levels of Nannochloropsis and biofuels). Nannochloropsis is actually in use as food additive for human nutrition and it is also served at Restaurant "A Poniente" of El Puerto de Santa María (Cádiz, Spain) close to the natural environment where Nannochloropsis gaditana was first isolated and still grows.[9]


The species currently recognised are:

  • N. gaditana
  • N. granulata
  • N. limnetica
  • N. oceanica
  • N. oculata
  • N. salina

Sequenced genomes

The scientific community has obtained the micro-organism, moreover dedicated web pages are also available for the genomes of CCMP526N. gaditana and CCMP1779N. oceanica.

The genomes of the sequenced Nannochloropsis strains were between 28.5 and 29 Mega bases long, they had high density of genes, reduced intron content, short intergenic regions[10] and very limited presence of repetitive sequences.[12] The genes of the two species share extended similarity.

The analysis of the genomes revealed that these microalgae have set of genes for the synthesis and incorporation in the cell wall of cellulose and sulfated fucans and that they are able to store carbon in polymers of β-1,3- and β-1,6-linked glucose called chrysolaminarin.[10] A NMR analysis of whole algal cells which were cultivated in autotrophic growth [14] reports evidence of the presence of cellulose in the cell wall and of mobile chrysolaminarin, probably accumulated in solution in vacuoles inside the cell.

Comparison between the lipid metabolic genes of N. gaditana and of red/green/brown algae and diatoms provided some insights into the exemplary lipid production of Nannochloropsis cultures. The comparisons indeed highlighted the presence of an expanded repertoire of some of the genes involved in TAG assembly in Nannochloropsis.[11] Numerous TAG lipases, which can affect TAG metabolism through either TAG degradation or lipid remodeling, were identified in Nannochloropsis,[12] many of them belonging to a gene family which seems to be exclusive of Nannochloropsis.[15]

Analysis of the genomic data suggested the presence in both the two species of Nannochloropsis of regulatory RNA and in particular miRNA.[10][12]

Various orthologs of known blue light sensing proteins were found in the genomes of Nannochloropsis suggesting possible circadian regulation.[10][12]

A research community from Qingdao Institute of Bioenergy and Bioprocess Technology (QIBEBT [1]), Chinese Academy of Sciences, sequenced and compared six Nannochloropsis genomes including that include two N. oceanica strains (IMET1 and CCMP531) and one strain from each of four other recognized species: N. salina (CCMP537), N. gaditana (CCMP526, which was previously reported[11]), N. oculata (CCMP525) and N. granulata (CCMP529).[16] They found that the six genomes share key oleaginous traits, such as the gene dose expansion of selected lipid biosynthesis genes compared to green algae Chlamydomonas. The most prominent example of gene dose expansion is Diacylglycerol acyltransferase (DGAT), which catalyzes the last step of triacylglycerol (TAG) synthesis. There’re 13 DGAT genes in Nannochloropsis, representing the highest gene dose in known genomes.

Through a comprehensive phylogenetic analysis, researchers proposed that among the 11 DGAT-2s, one gene might originate from the red algae related secondary endosymbiont, four from green algae related endosymbiont, and the other six from the eukaryotic host genome. In addition, a large proportion (15.3%) of TAG biosynthesis related genes were acquired by Nannochloropsis via horizontal gene transfer (HGT) from bacteria. Therefore, multiple genome pooling and horizontal genetic exchange, together with selective inheritance of lipid synthesis genes and species-specific gene loss, have led to the enormous genetic apparatus for oleaginousness and the wide genomic divergence among present-day Nannochloropsis spp.

Accumulation of oil in nitrogen deprivation

When cultured in normal growth conditions in standard f/2 medium supplemented with nitrogen, Nannochloropsis cells have an oil content of about 30% of their dry weight. This oil can be used to produce biodiesel. In order to produce biodiesel, the oil content of Nannochloropsis cultures must be increased. Fatty acid biosynthesis in N. oceanica was shown to be integrated with the regulation of the cholesterol biosynthetic pathway,suggesting new genetic engineering or chemical biology approaches for enhanced oil production in microalgae.[17] On the other hand, various culturing conditions were observed to increase the average oil content per cell, supporting however only slow growth rates of the cultures (see the related section Nannochloropsis and biofuels), and decreasing the overall productivity. Among these conditions, nitrogen deprivation has been one of the most vastly studied. Studies have examined the behaviour of the cultures in nitrogen stress in various culturing set-ups, as well as the physiological and molecular response of the cells to nitrogen deprivation.

Various strains of Nannochloropsis were shown to accumulate up to 60% - 70% of their overall biomass as lipids in nitrogen limitation.[7][18] In this condition not only the amount of lipids changes, but also the composition. It was observed that triacylglycerols largely increase in nitrogen depletion while other lipids, mainly polar glycerolipids, free fatty acids and diacylglycerols, slightly decrease. The increase in triacylglycerols in nitrogen depletion is much larger than the decrease in the other glycerolipids, supporting the hypothesis that the cells actively synthesise new triacylglycerols rather than just transforming the existing lipids into triacylglycerols.[19]

While triacylglycerols accumulate and lipid droplets enlarge, other important morphological changes take place. The chloroplasts became smaller and the amount of lipids that are characteristic of the photosynthetic membranes decrease significantly. Photosynthetic yield decreases in the nitrogen depleted cells, but it is still sufficient to drive cell survival and growth. If photosynthesis is inhibited indeed, Nannochloropsis cells stop growing, indicating that they rely on photosynthetic solar energy conversion and not on stored carbohydrates or lipids as energy source.[19]

Nannochloropsis cultivated in normal growth condition and deprived of a nitrogen source continues growing for 4–5 days. The analysis of cellular metabolism. The genes responsible for the incorporation of free ammonium into glutamate (L-glutamine + 2-oxoglutarate + NADPH + H+ ←→ 2 L-glutamate + NADP+) are up-regulated . Their up-regulation increases the capability of the cells to assimilate minimal amount of ammonium eventually present in the medium and, more importantly, allows them to assimilate the intracellular ammonium that can be released by degradative processes. Transcriptomic data of nitrogen-deprived Nannochloropsis cultures show that various enzymes responsible for degradative processes that release ammonium are indeed up regulated. Moreover the expression of genes coding for proteins involved in controlled degradation of proteins increase, together with others involved in the formation of cytosolic sequestering vesicles used for degradation and recycling of cellular components.[10]

The machinery of gene expression of chloroplast and mitochondrion is down regulated in Nannochloropsis in response to nitrogen depletion.[10][11]

Corteggiani Carpinelli and coworkers (2013)[10] report a complete analysis of the [10] advance the hypothesis that, in their experimental conditions, photosynthesis is the main energy source and the down-regulation of the metabolic activity of the mitochondrion is determinant in increasing the amount of substrates that enter the fatty acid biosynthetic pathway. If more precursors are available, more fatty acids are synthesised and as a consequence more triacylglycerols are produced and accumulated into the cells as oil droplets.

Dong et al. (2013)[20] report a quantification of the abundance of various proteins in cultures of Nannochloropsis grown with a supplement of CO2 and deprived of nitrogen. Despite the different experimental conditions, also the proteomic study seems to support the hypothesis that the accumulation of triacylglycerols is due to an increase of the metabolic flux trough the fatty acid biosynthetic pathway. The authors advance the hypothesis that, in their experimental conditions, the degradation of storage sugars and the up-regulation of glycolysis are responsible for the increase of substrates through the pathway.

More recently Li and coworkers (2014)[21] collected extensive experimental data from cultures of "Nannochloropsis oculata" IMET1 grown in nitrogen sufficient and nitrogen depleted media. According to their analysis it is the catabolism of carbohydrates and proteins together with the up-regulation of genes assigned to various pathways (the cytosolic glycolysis pathway, which produces pyruvate; the PDHC bypass, which yields additional acetyl-CoA; and the coupling of TCA reactions with mitochondrial β-oxidation) that have to be claimed for increasing the supply of carbon precursors to the fatty acid biosynthetic pathway. Nevertheless, the authors suggest that it isn't the increased synthesis of fatty acids that leads to accumulation of oil inside the cells, but it is rather the up-regulation of genes involved in the assembly of triacylglycerols that determines the final oil concentration. In oder words, under nitrogen depletion, it is the up-regulation of the transcript level of the key genes in triacylglycerol assembly, rather than those in fatty acids biosynthesis, that leads to accelerated triacylglycerol production.


  1. ^ Hibberd (1981). "Notes on the taxonomy and nomenclature of the algal classes Eustigmatophyceae and Tribophyceae (Synonym Xanthophyceae)". Botanical journal of the Linnean society 82: 93–119.  
  2. ^ Fawley (2007). "Observations on the Diversity and Ecology of Freshwater Nannochloropsis (Eustigmatophyceae), with Descriptions of New Taxa". Protist 158: 325–336.  
  3. ^ Andersen, R. A.; Brett, R. W. et al. (1998). "Phylogeny of the Eustigmatophyceae based upon 18s rDNA, with emphasis on Nannochloropsis". Protist 149 (1): 61–74.  
  4. ^ Lubian, L. M. et al. (2000). as source of commercially valuable pigments"Nannochloropsis (Eustigmatophyceae)". Journal of Applied Phycology 12: 249–255.  
  5. ^ Kandilian, R.; Lee, E.; Pilon, L. (2013). "Radiation and optical properties of Nannochloropsis oculata grown under different irradiances and spectra". Bioresource Technology 137: 63–73.  
  6. ^ Assaf Sukenik, Y. C. T. B. (1989). "Regulation of fatty acid composition by irradiance level in the Eustigmatophyte Nannochloropsis sp". Journal of Phycology 25 (4): 686–692.  
  7. ^ a b Boussiba, S.; Vonshak, A.; Cohen, Z.; Avissar, Y.; Richmond, A. (1987). "Lipid and biomass production by the halotolerant microalga Nannochloropsis salina". Biomass 12: 37–47.  
  8. ^ Kilian, O.; Benemann, C. S. E.; Niyogi, K. K.; Vick, B. (2011). "High-efficiency homologous recombination in the oil-producing alga Nannochloropsis sp". Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A 108 (52): 21265–21269.  
  9. ^ Lubian, L. M. (1982). "Nannochloropsis gaditana sp. nov., a new Eustigmatophyceae marina strain". Lazaroa 4: 287–293. 
  10. ^ a b c d e f g h i Corteggiani Carpinelli, E. et al. "Chromosome scale genome assembly and transcriptome profiling of Nannochloropsis gaditana in nitrogen depletion." Molecular Plant (2013). doi:10.1093/mp/sst120
  11. ^ a b c d e Radakovits, R. et al. (2012). "Draft genome sequence and genetic transformation of the oleaginous alga Nannochloropis gaditana". Nat Comms 3 (2): 686.  
  12. ^ a b c d e f Vieler, A. et al. "Genome, Functional Gene Annotation, and Nuclear Transformation of the Heterokont Oleaginous Alga Nannochloropsis oceanica CCMP1779." PLoS Genet 8, e1003064 (2012).
  13. ^ Liang, C. et al. (2012). "De Novo Sequencing and Global Transcriptome Analysis of Nannochloropsis sp. (Eustigmatophyceae) Following Nitrogen Starvation". Bioenerg. Res. 6: 494–505.  
  14. ^ Arnold, A. A. et al. (2014). "Identification of lipid and saccharide constituents of whole microalgal cells by 13C solid-state NMR". Biochimica et Biophysica Acta.  
  15. ^ Elisa Corteggiani Carpinelli e Nicola Vitulo Unpublished data available through the Nannochloropsis gaditana genome portal
  16. ^ Wang, Dongmei; Ning, Kang; Li, Jing; et, al.; Xu, Jian (January 2014). "Nannochloropsis Genomes Reveal Evolution of Microalgal Oleaginous Traits". PLOS Genetics 10 (1): e1004094.  
  17. ^ Lu et al.: Regulation of the cholesterol biosynthetic pathway and its integration with fatty acid biosynthesis in the oleaginous microalga Nannochloropsis oceanica. Biotechnology for Biofuels 2014 7:81.
  18. ^ Rodolfi, L; Chini Zittelli et al. (2008) "Microalgae for oil: strain selection, induction of lipid synthesis and outdoor mass cultivation in a low-cost photobioreactor". Biotechnol Bioeng 102 (1): 100–12. doi:10.1002/bit.22033
  19. ^ a b Simionato D, Block MA, La Rocca N, Jouhet J, Maréchal E, Finazzi G, Morosinotto T. (2013) The response of Nannochloropsis gaditana to nitrogen starvation includes de novo biosynthesis of triacylglycerols, a decrease of chloroplast galactolipids, and reorganisation of the photosynthetic apparatus. Eukaryotic Cell May 2013 vol. 12 no. 5 665-676
  20. ^ Dong HP, Williams E, Wang DZ, Xie ZX, Hsia RC, Jenck A, Halden R, Li J, Chen F, Place AR (2013) Responses of Nannochloropsis oceanica IMET1 to Long-Term Nitrogen Starvation and Recovery. PLANT PHYSIOLOGY, 162:1110–1126
  21. ^ Li J, Han D, Wang D, Ning K, Jia J, Wei L, Jing X, Huang S, Chen J, Li Y, Hu Q, Xu J (2014) Choreography of Transcriptomes and Lipidomes of Nannochloropsis Reveals the Mechanisms of Oil Synthesis in Microalgae. The Plant Cell

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