Sterols in Microalgae

  • John K. Volkman
Part of the Developments in Applied Phycology book series (DAPH, volume 6)


This chapter reviews the sterol compositions reported for the different classes of microalgae. For a few major phyla such as the green microalgae, diatoms, dinoflagellates and haptophytes a sufficiently large number of species (over 100 in the case of diatoms) have been analysed for sterols allowing some generalisations to be made and characteristic features to be identified. In many other algal classes there is a paucity of sterol data available as only a few species have been analysed. These compositions are discussed in terms of taxonomic groupings and from the viewpoint of the various steps involved in sterol biosynthesis that introduce specific double bonds or alkylate the sterol side-chain. Green microalgae are shown to have a variety of compositions including some with simple distributions of sterols dominated by the C29 sterol 24-ethylcholest-5-en-3β-ol (sitosterol) more commonly associated with higher plants. In other green algae a predominance of Δ7-unsaturated sterols is found dominated by 24-methylcholesta-5,7,22E-dien-3β-ol (ergosterol). Diatoms contain a surprising diversity of sterol distributions with over 40 sterols identified. Common sterols include 24-methylcholesta-5,22E-dien-3β-ol, 24-methylenecholesterol and cholesterol. Some diatom genera display distinctive distributions such as Amphora which contains high contents of the C29 sterol 24-ethylcholesta-5,22E-dien-3β-ol. A number of unusual sterols have been found in smaller amounts in a few species including 4-methylsterols and the C30 sterol gorgosterol. Sterols with a methyl group at C-23 are also surprisingly common showing that this feature is not unique to dinoflagellate sterols. Many dinoflagellates contain mixtures of 4-methylsterols including the C30 sterol 4α,23,24-trimethyl-5α-cholest-22E-en-3β-ol (dinosterol), as well as related 5α(H)-stanols. A few genera contain unusual sterols such as Amphidinium and Karenia species which contain Δ8(14)-unsaturated sterols. Haptophytes, in contrast, usually have simple sterol distributions, often dominated by 24-methylcholesta-5,22E-dien-3β-ol also found in diatoms.


Sterols Triterpenoids Biosynthesis Biochemical forms Environmental effects Distribution Taxonomy 



I thank Dr Susan Blackburn, Ian Jameson and staff of the Australian National Algae Culture Collection at CSIRO in Hobart for providing algal cultures over many years that have led to many new findings about the lipids in microalgae. I also thank Dan Holdsworth, Graeme Dunstan and Stephanie Barrett for their analytical skills and Dr Roger Summons, Dr Shirley Jeffrey (deceased), Dr Jan de Leeuw, Dr Jaap Sinninghe Damsté, Dr Sebastiaan Rampen, Dr G.W. Patterson and Dr L.J. Goad for helpful discussions over the years.


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.CSIRO Oceans and Atmosphere FlagshipHobartAustralia

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