Journal Article Cold-induced metabolic conversion of haptophyte di- to tri-unsaturated C37 alkenones used as palaeothermometer molecules

Kitamura, Eri  ,  Kotajima, Tomonori  ,  Sawada, Ken  ,  Suzuki, Iwane  ,  Shiraiwa, Yoshihiro

8p.2196 , 2018-02 , Nature Publishing Group
The cosmopolitan marine haptophyte alga Emiliania huxleyi accumulates very long-chain (C37-C40) alkyl ketones with two to four trans-type carbon-carbon double bonds (alkenones). These compounds are used as biomarkers of haptophytes and as palaeothermometers for estimating sea-surface temperatures in biogeochemistry. However, the biosynthetic pathway of alkenones in algal cells remains enigmatic, although it is well known that the C37 tri-unsaturated alkenone (K37:3) becomes dominant at low temperatures, either by desaturation of K37:2 or by a separate pathway involving the elongation of tri-unsaturated alkenone precursors. Here, we present experimental evidence regarding K37:3 synthesis. Using the well-known cosmopolitan alkenone producer E. huxleyi, we labelled K37:2 with 13C by incubating cells with 13C-bicarbonate in the light at 25 °C under conditions of little if any K37:3 production. After stabilisation of the 13C-K37:2 level by depleting 13C-bicarbonate from the medium, the temperature was suddenly reduced to 15 °C. The 13C-K37:2 level rapidly decreased, and the 13C-K37:3 level increased, whereas the total 13C-K37 level—namely [K37:2 + K37:3]—remained constant. These 13C-pulse-chase-like experimental results indicate that 13C-K37:2 is converted directly to 13C-K37:3 by a desaturation reaction that is promoted by a cold signal. This clear-cut experimental evidence is indicative of the existence of a cold-signal-triggered desaturation reaction in alkenone biosynthesis.

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