Current advances in molecular, biochemical, and computational modeling analysis of microalgal triacylglycerol biosynthesis

Research paper by Sangram K. Lenka, Nicole Carbonaro, Rudolph Park, Stephen M. Miller, Ian Thorpe, Yantao Li

Indexed on: 15 Jun '16Published on: 14 Jun '16Published in: Biotechnology Advances


Triacylglycerols (TAGs) are highly reduced energy storage molecules ideal for biodiesel production. Microalgal TAG biosynthesis has been studied extensively in recent years, both at the molecular level and systems level through experimental studies and computational modeling. However, discussions of the strategies and products of the experimental and modeling approaches are rarely integrated and summarized together in a way that promotes collaboration among modelers and biologists in this field. In this review, we outline advances toward understanding the cellular and molecular factors regulating TAG biosynthesis in unicellular microalgae with an emphasis on recent studies on rate-limiting steps in fatty acid and TAG synthesis, while also highlighting new insights obtained from the integration of multi-omics datasets with mathematical models. Computational methodologies such as kinetic modeling, metabolic flux analysis, and new variants of flux balance analysis are explained in detail. We discuss how these methods have been used to simulate algae growth and lipid metabolism in response to changing culture conditions and how they have been used in conjunction with experimental validations. Since emerging evidence indicates that TAG synthesis in microalgae operates through coordinated crosstalk between multiple pathways in diverse subcellular destinations including the endoplasmic reticulum and plastids, we discuss new experimental studies and models that incorporate these findings for discovering key regulatory checkpoints. Finally, we describe tools for genetic manipulation of microalgae and their potential for future rational algal strain design. This comprehensive review explores the potential synergistic impact of pathway analysis, computational approaches, and molecular genetic manipulation strategies on improving TAG production in microalgae.

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