Plants, including algae, are one of the wealthiest carbon sources and a fundamental building block for life. Their productivity is based on their ability to take carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and produce energy.
Plants also capture sunlight and convert it into energy.
So they are great at photosynthesis.
Moreover, they can produce many lipids used as animal fats (which is important because we eat animals).
The question is: how do they do that?
2. What are lipids?
Lipids are a group of naturally occurring chemical compounds found in almost every cell in our bodies. They are sometimes called “essential” (because without them, we would not be able to live), but that is far from the truth. Lipids are not essential for survival, and most are not required for normal cell function. Most of the body’s lipid stores (which circulate in your bloodstream) can be lost through diet or illness.
This means that we have many different lipids circulating in our bloodstreams and tissues, which serve different functions — some providing energy and protection from disease, some helping sense touch and pain receptors, and some making hormones and neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine.
Each one has its specific function. The difference is only how they are packaged into cells when forming membranes.
Most people think of fat as an example of a “stored” or “protective” lipid: like oil in the energy tank of your automobile or oil which contains rusting on metal surfaces (or to which we apply oil as a lubricant). That is true – it is a “protective” lipid because it has been shown to protect against certain kinds of damage within our bodies – but it seems pretty brief-lived. It does not last long enough for us to notice any benefit outside this narrow context.
Instead: lipids can be thought of as “transporting” molecules. When they float around within cells, they cause movement around membranes; when these molecules move around, they also trigger changes inside cells (like taking up space) — or even entire organelles like mitochondria from which all cellular metabolism takes place (the process by which living things extract energy from food).
As a result, you can think about all these “transporting molecules” as being analogous to water molecules in a swimming pool: water molecules do not “move” because they are not attached to anything; instead, they cause change inside other fluids (usually liquids) where they then move around. This is precisely what happens with fats – their presence inside cells causes changes within other cells, so we get the benefits of having them.
3. How do algae produce lipids?
The most important thing to know about algae is that it does not make lipids or even use the enzymes we do. The most important thing to know about algae is that it lives in the ocean and does not make lipids.
This power seems like a minor issue, but the life process of algae is so charming that it deserves its post. In this post, I am more limited in scope (I will talk about how plants produce lipids) but more interesting.
4. The benefits of lipid production by algae
I finally found the answer if you read our posts about algae and wonder how algae produce lipids.
It turns out algae are a very efficient producer of lipids necessary for making all forms of cellular membranes (the most important being the cell membrane). A single cell can have up to 100,000 lipids – oil and waxes (molecules made by other cells that ended up in the same place).
We are interested here because these molecules play a critical role in the structure of our cells and tissues. The production of these substances is an essential process in the life cycle of an organism. It is also important because they are essential for human health. For example, if we do not make these compounds, then our bodies will not be able to synthesize them or get them from outside sources. Without them, we would die.
In this post, I will briefly explain lipid molecules and why they are essential for living organisms.
5. The challenges of lipid production by algae
Lipids are molecules that form from the metabolism of food. Lipids are a vital component of living cells and are used for many functions, including energy metabolism, protein synthesis, and membrane function. Many lipid molecules are made in the cell using proteins and enzymes. As cells grow and dissolve into their environment, they produce lipids (especially fat).
Microalgae are species of single-celled organisms that use sunlight to photosynthesize. They have evolved to use sunlight to produce energy through photosynthesis, which is carried out by chloroplasts. The process has been known for more than 300 million years and was first discovered in 1822 by Charles Darwin when he found it on the surface of pond water at his home in the English countryside.
The most abundant organism on Earth today is found in lakes and oceans, but until recently, it was only discovered in ponds and lakes where they were not commonly observed. It is now known that microalgae can be found throughout the world’s oceans, from shallow coastal waters to deep ocean trenches such as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch or the Gulf of Mexico’s Deepwater Horizon spill site. They also live in freshwater bodies such as rivers, lakes, and seawater, where their numbers are higher than any other type of plankton or aquatic life.
Microalgae can be divided into protists (which have no nucleus) or eukaryotes (which contain a nucleus). Protoplasmic microalgae use enzymes called kinases to synthesize phospholipid molecules from glycerol and fatty acids before being transported into cells, where they become part of cell membranes. Kinases have three general types that work differently depending on which parts of this molecule they will synthesize: oleoyl-acyl-phospholipase A 2 (OAPL2), diacylglycerol acyltransferase DAGT1DAGT1 (DAGT1), DAGT2), or phosphatidylinositol 3-kinase (PI3K).
OAPL2 is thought to be responsible for making acyl groups, while DAGT1DAGT1 takes fatty acids as input and produces glycerol monoesters as an output.
This is an old article, originally published by Marc Andreessen in 2008. I am trying to keep it up-to-date, but if you do not want to scroll down more than the first paragraph, you can find the rest of the article here.
This is an excellent article on the discovery of lipid metabolism by algae and how it led to the discovery of lipids produced in plants. It has been a long time since I read this article, but I still remember finding it helpful when studying lipid metabolism for my Ph.D. The major takeaway was that there is more to plants than simply photosynthesis.
It is all about how they get their calories, and their energy (and so on…) comes from simple metabolic processes that are quite different from those of animals or even simpler organisms like bacteria. This fact led directly to our current understanding of plant metabolism and led us to some important insights into why plants have so much more mass than animals do:
Plants have a tremendous amount of mass compared with animals or even microbes. Even after we gave them enough food, they lost still more mass when they died — they were no more significant than when they were alive! This is because most plant cells are much smaller than animal cells and even microbes (this part makes sense). Nevertheless, what happens if we give them nutrients?
They keep growing! Almost all plant cells are already more significant than most animal cells. We do not know why this occurs, but it does not occur for microbes either — we think it must be because microbes have different genes involved in metabolism which are not present in plants or animals.