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Enhancing lipid production of the marine diatom Chaetoceros gracilis: synergistic interactions of sodium chloride and silicon

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Silicon deficiency is a lipid-promoting stress for many oleaginous diatoms. Literature reports suggest that reduced salinity in seawater, a primary component of which is sodium chloride, may inhibit metabolism of silicon in marine diatoms. We hypothesized that lowering sodium chloride below ocean levels may thus be effective in creating silicon stress and enhancing lipid productivity. We examined the interacting effects of silicon supply (0.05, 0.1, 0.2, and 0.8 mM) and sodium chloride concentration (50, 100, and 400 mM) on growth and lipid production in Chaetoceros gracilis. This was done in batch culture to facilitate the application of severe stress. Low levels of either sodium chloride or silicon resulted in at least 50 % increases in lipid content. The synergy of simultaneous, moderate sodium chloride and silicon stress resulted in lipid content up to 73 % of dry mass and lipid productivity of 1.7 g m−2 day−1; with a daily integrated photosynthetic photon flux of 17.3 mol photons m−2 day−1, the efficiency of lipid synthesis was thus 0.1 g mol−1 of photons. Decreased silicon also resulted in a 5 % shift in lipid chain length from C18 to C16 fatty acids. We observed a strong sodium chloride/silicon interaction on total and ash-free dry mass densities that arose because low sodium chloride concentrations were inhibitory to growth, but the inhibition was overcome with excessive silicon supply. This observation suggests that low levels of sodium chloride may have affected metabolism of silicon. The findings of this study can be used to enhance lipid production in oleaginous marine diatoms.

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We would like to thank Cade Adams, a research technician who did great work on these experiments. We also thank Xin Dai of the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station for statistical support. This research was funded by the US Department of Energy through the BioEnergy Center at Utah State University. This research was also supported by the Utah Agricultural Experiment Station, Utah State University and approved as journal paper number 8532.

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Correspondence to Curtis Adams.

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Adams, C., Bugbee, B. Enhancing lipid production of the marine diatom Chaetoceros gracilis: synergistic interactions of sodium chloride and silicon. J Appl Phycol 26, 1351–1357 (2014).

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