Impact of thiamine metabolites and spent medium from Chlorella sorokiniana on metabolism in the green algae Auxenochlorella prototheciodes

Brendan T. Higgins*, Qichen Wang, Sandon Du, Marie Hennebelle, Ameer Y. Taha, Oliver Fiehn, Jean S. VanderGheynst

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

6 Citations (Scopus)


Auxenochlorella protothecoides is a known thiamine auxotroph but our past work has shown that it can synthesize thiamine if provided with the precursor molecule 4-amino-5-hydroxymethyl-2-methylpyrimidine (HMP). Partial thiamine auxotrophy is common in microalgae with important ramifications for global phytoplankton productivity as well as engineering applications of algae. While thiamine deficiency can greatly depress algae growth and lipid content, the detailed metabolic impacts of thiamine deficiency are not well understood. We used metabolomics to study the response to thiamine-limited and replete conditions in mixotrophic A. protothecoides. We also investigated the impacts of exogenous HMP addition and the use of spent medium from another green algae, C. sorokiniana, as a source of thiamine metabolites. This is the first study, to our knowledge, that addresses metabolic impacts of thiamine deficiency and alleviation in green microalgae. Thiamine deficient cultures exhibited accumulation of pyruvate and α-ketoglutarate, indicating bottlenecks at the pyruvate dehydrogenase (PDH) and oxoglutarate dehydrogenase (OGDH) complexes. Both PDH and OGDH require thiamine pyrophosphate (TPP) as a cofactor. Transketolase also requires TPP but we only observed build-up of ribose-5-phosphate when glucose was supplied as a substrate. As expected, thiamine and HMP addition could alleviate these metabolic bottlenecks while greatly increasing algal growth, neutral lipid and starch content. Spent medium from C. sorokiniana only appeared to partially alleviate thiamine deficiency and resulted in build-up of isocitrate and glycolate, metabolites that appeared relatively unaffected by the presence or absence of thiamine. Interestingly, longer culture time of C. sorokiniana when preparing the spent medium led to much higher availability of thiamine metabolites. Thus, under the right conditions, it may be possible to co-culture mutually beneficial algae species and/or recycle spent cultivation medium to overcome auxotrophy in algae.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)197-208
JournalAlgal Research
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018


  • Metabolism
  • Microalgae
  • Substrate utilization
  • Symbiosis
  • Thiamine

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