Effects of Excess and Limited Phosphate on Biomass, Lipid and Fatty Acid Contents and the Expression of Four Fatty Acid Desaturase Genes in the Tropical Selenastraceaen Messastrum gracile SE-MC4

  • Kaben Anne-Marie
  • Willy Yee
  • Saw Hong Loh
  • Ahmad Aziz
  • Thye San ChaEmail author


In this study, the effects of limited and excess phosphate on biomass content, oil content, fatty acid profile and the expression of three fatty acid desaturases in Messastrum gracile SE-MC4 were determined. It was found that total biomass (0.67–0.83 g L−1), oil content (30.99–38.08%) and the duration for cells to reach stationary phase (25–27 days) were not considerably affected by phosphate limitation. However, excess phosphate slightly reduced total biomass and oil content to 0.50 g L−1 and 25.36% respectively. The dominant fatty acids in M. gracile, pamitic acid (C16:0) and oleic acid (C18:1) which constitute more than 81% of the total fatty acids remained relatively high and constant across all phosphate concentrations. Reduction of phosphate concentration to 25% and below significantly increased total MUFA, whereas increasing phosphate concentration to ≥ 50% and ≥ 100% significantly increased total SFA and PUFA content respectively. The expression of omega-3 fatty acid desaturase (ω-3 FADi1, ω-3 FADi2) and omega-6 fatty acid desaturase (ω-6 FAD) was increased under phosphate limitation, especially at ≤ 12.5% phosphate, whereas levels of streoyl-ACP desaturase (SAD) transcripts were relatively unchanged across all phosphate concentrations. The first isoform of ω-3 FAD (ω-3 FADi) displayed a binary upregulation under limited (≤ 12.5%) and excess (200%) phosphate. The expression of ω-6 FAD, ω-3 FAD and SAD were inconsistent with the accumulation of oleic acid (C18:1), linoleic acid (C18:2) and alpha-linolenic acid (C18:3), suggesting that these genes may be regulated indirectly by phosphate availability via post-transcriptional or post-translational mechanisms.


Microalgae Fatty acid desaturase Nutrient starvation Biodiesel Phosphorus limitation 


Authors’ Contributions

TSC, KAM, AA and SHL conceived and designed the research; KAM conducted the experiments. TSC, KAM, WY, AA and SHL analysed and interpreted data. KAM and WY wrote the manuscript with guidance from TSC, AA and SHL. All authors read and approved the manuscript.

Funding Information

This research project was funded under the Science Fund (Project No: 05-01-12—SF1007) from the Ministry of Agriculture (MOA) Malaysia.

Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of Interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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© Springer Science+Business Media, LLC, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Science and Marine EnvironmentUniversiti Malaysia TerengganuKuala TerengganuMalaysia
  2. 2.Institute of Marine BiotechnologyUniversiti Malaysia TerengganuKuala TerengganuMalaysia

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