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Nitrogen deprivation increases the triacylglycerol (TAG) content in microalgae but also severely decreases the growth rate. Most approaches that attempted to increase TAG productivity by overexpression or knockdown of specific genes related to the regulation of the lipid synthesis have reported only little success. More insight into the molecular mechanisms related to lipid accumulation and impaired growth rate is needed to find targets for improving TAG productivity. By using the emerging “omics” approach, we comprehensively profiled the physiology, transcriptome, proteome and metabolome of the diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum during steady state growth at both nitrogen limited and replete levels during light:dark cycles. Under nitrogen limited conditions, 22% (2699) of the total identified transcripts, 17% (543) of the proteins and 44% (345) of the metabolites were significantly differentially regulated compared to nitrogen replete growth conditions. Although nitrogen limitation was responsible for the majority of significant differential transcript, protein and metabolite accumulation, we also observed differential expression over a diurnal cycle. Nitrogen limitation mainly induced an upregulation of nitrogen fixation, central carbon metabolism and TCA cycle, while photosynthetic and ribosomal protein synthesis are mainly downregulated. Regulation of the lipid metabolism and the expression of predicted proteins involved in lipid processes suggest that lipid rearrangements may substantially contribute to TAG distribution. However, TAG synthesis is also limited by the reduced carbon flux through central metabolism. Future strain improvements should therefore focus on understanding and improving the carbon flux through central carbon metabolism, selectivity and activity of DGAT isoforms and lipase enzymes.
- Diurnal metabolism
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