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.
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