Dr. Bala Rathinasabapathi is a professor in the University of Florida’s horticultural sciences department

Dr. Bala Rathinasabapathi is a professor in the University of Florida’s horticultural sciences department

Dr. Bala Rathinasabapathi, a professor in the University of Florida’s horticultural sciences department, and graduate research assistant Elton Goncalves, have been researching how nitrogen starvation stress induces lipid accumulation in chlorella.

Their findings, described online this month in the journal Planta, show that lipid accumulation in algal cells begins just hours after they are starved of nitrogen – not days, as some research has suggested.

They also found that about 30 percent of lipids produced under nitrogen stress occurred as the membrane began to degrade inside each cell, the cell recycling the membrane lipids to oil.

“Our hope is that what we have done will be helpful to understand what’s going on in cells under nitrogen starvation and might help us to tweak the technique where we can use the cells to make lipids but not necessarily stop growth – that’s our long-term goal,” Dr. Rathinasabapathi said.

The next step for the researchers is to begin looking at genes and proteins involved during the cellular-stress stage, he said.

The study was not grant-funded, but Goncalves’ work was supported by the Plant Molecular and Cellular Biology program, part of UF’s College of Agricultural and Life Sciences. The college is part of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

—Mickie Anderson