A front-end desaturase from Chlamydomonas reinhardtii produces pinolenic and coniferonic acids by omega13 desaturation in methylotrophic yeast and tobacco

Plant Cell Physiol. 2006 Jan;47(1):64-73. doi: 10.1093/pcp/pci224. Epub 2005 Nov 2.


Pinolenic acid (PA; 18:3Delta(5,9,12)) and coniferonic acid (CA; 18:4Delta(5,9,12,15)) are Delta(5)-unsaturated bis-methylene-interrupted fatty acids (Delta(5)-UBIFAs) commonly found in pine seed oil. They are assumed to be synthesized from linoleic acid (LA; 18:2Delta(9,12)) and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA; 18:3Delta(9,12,15)), respectively, by Delta(5)-desaturation. A unicellular green microalga Chlamydomonas reinhardtii also accumulates PA and CA in a betain lipid. The expressed sequence tag (EST) resource of C. reinhardtii led to the isolation of a cDNA clone that encoded a putative fatty acid desaturase named as CrDES containing a cytochrome b5 domain at the N-terminus. When the coding sequence was expressed heterologously in the methylotrophic yeast Pichia pastoris, PA and CA were newly detected and comparable amounts of LA and ALA were reduced, demonstrating that CrDES has Delta(5)-desaturase activity for both LA and ALA. CrDES expressed in the yeast showed Delta(5)-desaturase activity on 18:1Delta(9) but not 18:1Delta(11). Unexpectedly, CrDES also showed Delta(7)-desaturase activity on 20:2Delta(11,14) and 20:3Delta(11,14,17) to produce 20:3Delta(7,11,14) and 20:4Delta(7,11,14,17), respectively. Since both the Delta(5) bond in C18 and the Delta(7) bond in C20 fatty acids are 'omega13' double bonds, these results indicate that CrDES has omega13 desaturase activity for omega9 unsaturated C18/C20 fatty acids, in contrast to the previously reported front-end desaturases. In order to evaluate the activity of CrDES in higher plants, transgenic tobacco plants expressing CrDES were created. PA and CA accumulated in the leaves of transgenic plants. The highest combined yield of PA and CA was 44.7% of total fatty acids, suggesting that PA and CA can be produced in higher plants on a large scale.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acid Sequence
  • Animals
  • Arachidonic Acids / biosynthesis*
  • Chlamydomonas reinhardtii / enzymology
  • Chlamydomonas reinhardtii / genetics
  • Chlamydomonas reinhardtii / metabolism*
  • DNA, Algal / genetics
  • DNA, Algal / isolation & purification
  • DNA, Complementary / genetics
  • DNA, Complementary / isolation & purification
  • DNA, Protozoan / genetics
  • DNA, Protozoan / isolation & purification
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / genetics
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acids / analysis
  • Linolenic Acids / biosynthesis*
  • Molecular Sequence Data
  • Open Reading Frames
  • Phylogeny
  • Pichia / enzymology
  • Pichia / genetics
  • Plants, Genetically Modified
  • Recombinant Proteins / genetics
  • Recombinant Proteins / metabolism
  • Sequence Homology, Amino Acid
  • Substrate Specificity
  • Tobacco / enzymology
  • Tobacco / genetics


  • Arachidonic Acids
  • DNA, Algal
  • DNA, Complementary
  • DNA, Protozoan
  • Fatty Acids
  • Linolenic Acids
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • coniferonic acid
  • 5,9,12-octadecatrienoic acid
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases