Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

A metabolomic strategy defines the regulation of lipid content and global metabolism by Δ9 desaturases in Caenorhabditis elegans

Cecilia Castro12, Funda Sar13, W Robert Shaw13, Masanori Mishima13, Eric A Miska13 and Julian L Griffin124*

Author affiliations

1 Department of Biochemistry, University of Cambridge, 80 Tennis Court Road, Cambridge, CB2 1GA, UK

2 Cambridge Systems Biology Centre, University of Cambridge, 80 Tennis Court Road, Cambridge, CB2 1GA, UK

3 Wellcome Trust Cancer Research UK Gurdon Institute, The Henry Wellcome Building of Cancer and Developmental Biology, University of Cambridge, Tennis Court Road, Cambridge, CB2 1QN, UK

4 The Medical Research Council Human Nutrition Research, Elsie Widdowson Laboratory, Fulborn Road, Cambridge, CB1 9NL, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Genomics 2012, 13:36  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-13-36

Published: 20 January 2012



Caenorhabditis elegans provides a genetically tractable model organism to investigate the network of genes involved in fat metabolism and how regulation is perturbed to produce the complex phenotype of obesity. C. elegans possess the full range of desaturases, including the Δ9 desaturases expressed by fat-5, fat-6 and fat-7. They regulate the biosynthesis of monounsaturated fatty acids, used for the synthesis of lipids including phospholipids, triglycerides and cholesteryl esters.


Liquid chromatography mass spectrometry (LC-MS), gas chromatography mass spectrometry (GC-MS) and nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy were used to define the metabolome of all the possible knock-outs for the Δ9 desaturases, including for the first time intact lipids. Despite the genes having similar enzymatic roles, excellent discrimination was achievable for all single and viable double mutants highlighting the distinctive roles of fat-6 and fat-7, both expressing steroyl-CoA desaturases. The metabolomic changes extend to aqueous metabolites demonstrating the influence Δ9 desaturases have on regulating global metabolism and highlighting how comprehensive metabolomics is more discriminatory than classically used dyes for fat staining.


The propagation of metabolic changes across the network of metabolism demonstrates that modification of the Δ9 desaturases places C.elegans into a catabolic state compared with wildtype controls.