: The present study sought to characterize the synthesis pathways producing the essential polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) 20:5n-3 (EPA). For this, the incorporation of 13C was experimentally monitored into 10 fatty acids (FA) during the growth of the diatom Chaetoceros muelleri for 24 h. Chaetoceros muelleri preferentially and quickly incorporated 13C into C18 PUFAs such as 18:2n-6 and 18:3n-6 as well as 16:0 and 16:1n-7, which were thus highly 13C-enriched. During the experiment, 20:5n-3 and 16:3n-4 were among the least-enriched fatty acids. The calculation of the enrichment percentage ratio of a fatty acid B over its suspected precursor A allowed us to suggest that the diatom produced 20:5n-3 (EPA) by a combination between the n-3 (via 18:4n-3) and n-6 (via 18:3n-6 and 20:4n-6) synthesis pathways as well as the alternative ω-3 desaturase pathway (via 20:4n-6). In addition, as FA from polar lipids were generally more enriched in 13C than FA from neutral lipids, particularly for 18:1n-9, 18:2n-6 and 18:3n-6, the existence of acyl-editing mechanisms and connectivity between polar and neutral lipid fatty acid pools were also hypothesized. Because 16:3n-4 and 20:5n-3 presented the same concentration and enrichment dynamics, a structural and metabolic link was proposed between these two PUFAs in C. muelleri.
Keywords: 20:5n-3 (EPA), Chaetoceros muelleri; acyl-editing mechanism; compound-specific isotope analysis; diatom; synthesis pathway.