, Volume 249, Issue 1, pp 31–47 | Cite as

A hypothesis about the origin of carotenoid lipid droplets in the green algae Dunaliella and Haematococcus

  • Uri PickEmail author
  • Aliza Zarka
  • Sammy Boussiba
  • Lital Davidi
Part of the following topical collections:
  1. Terpenes and Isoprenoids


Main conclusion

Hypercarotenogenesis in green algae evolved by mutation of PSY that increased its transcription at high light, disintegration of the eyespot in Dunaliella and acquisition of the capacity to export carotenoids from chloroplasts in Haematococcus.

Carotenoids (Car) are lipid-soluble pigments synthesized in plants, algae, bacteria and fungi. Car have strong antioxidative properties and as such are utilized to reduce the danger of different diseases in humans. Two green microalgae are utilized as rich natural sources for Car: Dunaliella salina/bardawil accumulates 10% (w/w) β-carotene (βC), which is also pro-vitamin A, and Haematococcus pluvialis accumulates 4% (w/w) astaxanthin (Ast), the strongest antioxidant among Car. D. bardawil accumulates βC in plastoglobules within the chloroplast, whereas H. pluvialis deposits Ast in cytoplasmic lipid droplets (CLD). In this review we compare the hypercarotenogenic responses (HCR) in Dunaliella and in Haematococcus and try to outline hypothetical evolutionary pathways for its origin. We propose that a mutation in phytoene synthetase that increased its transcription level in response to high light stress had a pivotal role in the evolution of the HCR. Proteomic analyses indicated that in D. bardawil/salina the HCR evolved from dissociation and amplification of eyespot lipid globules. The more robust HCR in algae that accumulate carotenoids in CLD, such as H. pluvialis, required also acquisition of the capacity to export βC out of the chloroplast and its enzymatic conversion into Ast.


Carotenogenic response Carotenoid lipid droplets Dunaliella salina/bardawil Haematococcus pluvialis Eyespot Phytoene synthase 





Ast transacylase




βC plastoglobules


βC ketolase






Cytoplasmic lipid droplets


ΒC hydroxylase


Fatty acids


Hypercarotenogenic response


High light


Nutrient deprivation


Photosystem II


Phytoene synthase


Reactive oxygen species





We wish to thank Dr. Aviv Shaish, The Bert W. Strassburger Lipid Center, Sheba Medical Center, Tel-Hashomer in Israel for critical comments and helpful discussions.

Supplementary material

425_2018_3050_MOESM1_ESM.docx (17 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 17 kb)
425_2018_3050_MOESM2_ESM.pptx (116 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (PPTX 115 kb)


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Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Biomolecular SciencesThe Weizmann Institute of ScienceRehovotIsrael
  2. 2.Microalgal Biotechnology Laboratory, French Associates Institute for Agriculture and Biotechnology of Drylands, The Jacob Blaustein Institutes for Desert ResearchBen-Gurion University of the NegevBeer-ShevaIsrael
  3. 3.Department of Chemistry and BiochemistryUniversity of CaliforniaLos AngelesUSA

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