Microalgal biofactories: a promising approach towards sustainable omega-3 fatty acid production

Microb Cell Fact. 2012 Jul 25;11:96. doi: 10.1186/1475-2859-11-96.


Omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) provide significant health benefits and this has led to an increased consumption as dietary supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are found in animals, transgenic plants, fungi and many microorganisms but are typically extracted from fatty fish, putting additional pressures on global fish stocks. As primary producers, many marine microalgae are rich in EPA (C20:5) and DHA (C22:6) and present a promising source of omega-3 fatty acids. Several heterotrophic microalgae have been used as biofactories for omega-3 fatty acids commercially, but a strong interest in autotrophic microalgae has emerged in recent years as microalgae are being developed as biofuel crops. This paper provides an overview of microalgal biotechnology and production platforms for the development of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. It refers to implications in current biotechnological uses of microalgae as aquaculture feed and future biofuel crops and explores potential applications of metabolic engineering and selective breeding to accumulate large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in autotrophic microalgae.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Aquatic Organisms / metabolism
  • Dietary Supplements / analysis
  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3 / biosynthesis*
  • Food Chain
  • Humans
  • Metabolic Engineering
  • Microalgae / genetics
  • Microalgae / metabolism*


  • Fatty Acids, Omega-3