The versatility of algae and their lipid metabolism

Biochimie. 2009 Jun;91(6):679-84. doi: 10.1016/j.biochi.2008.11.004. Epub 2008 Nov 27.


Eukaryotic algae are a very diverse group of organisms that are key components of ecosystems ranging from deserts to the Antarctic. They account for over half of the primary production at the base of food chains. The lipids of different classes are varied and contain unusual compounds not found in other phyla. In this short review, we introduce the major cellular lipids and their fatty acids and then describe how the latter (particularly the polyunsaturated fatty acids, PUFAs) are synthesised. The discovery of different elongases and desaturases important for PUFA production is detailed and their application for biotechnology described. Finally, the potential for algae in commercial applications is discussed, particularly in relation to the production of very long chain PUFAs and biofuel.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Biosynthetic Pathways
  • Biotechnology / methods
  • Biotechnology / trends
  • Eukaryota / classification
  • Eukaryota / enzymology
  • Eukaryota / metabolism*
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases / metabolism
  • Fatty Acids / biosynthesis*
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated / biosynthesis
  • Lipid Metabolism*
  • Species Specificity


  • Fatty Acids
  • Fatty Acids, Unsaturated
  • Fatty Acid Desaturases