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De novo transcriptome profiling uncovers a drastic downregulation of photosynthesis upon nitrogen deprivation in the nonmodel green alga Botryosphaerella sudeticus

Deying Sun1, Jiaqi Zhu1, Lei Fang1, Xin Zhang1, Yvonne Chow2 and Jianhua Liu1*

Author Affiliations

1 Systems Biology, Genome Institute of Singapore, 60 Biopolis Street, #02-01, Singapore 138672, Singapore

2 Industrial Biotechnology, Institute of Chemical and Engineering Sciences, Singapore 627833, Singapore

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BMC Genomics 2013, 14:715  doi:10.1186/1471-2164-14-715

Published: 19 October 2013



Neutral lipid storage is enhanced by nitrogen deprivation (ND) in numbers of green microalgal species. However, little is known about the metabolic pathways whose transcription levels are most significantly altered following ND in green microalgae, especially the nonmodel species.


To start gaining knowledge on this, we performed transcriptome profiling of the nonmodel green microalga Botryosphaerella sudeticus cells in response to ND. Transcriptome of B. sudeticus is de novo assembled based on millions of HiSEQ short sequence reads using CLC Genomics Workbench software. The resulting non-redundant ESTs are annotated based on the best hits generated from the BLASTX homology comparison against the “best” proteins in the model microalgae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii and Chlorella variabilis. By using a pathway-based approach according to KEGG databases, we show that ESTs encoding ribosomal proteins and photosynthetic functions are the most abundantly expressed ESTs in the rapidly growing B. sudeticus cells. We find that ESTs encoding photosynthetic function but not the ribosomal proteins are most drastically downregulated upon ND. Notably, ESTs encoding lipid metabolic pathways are not significantly upregulated. Further analyses indicate that chlorophyll content is markedly decreased by 3-fold and total lipid content is only slightly increased by 50%, consistent with the transcriptional profiling. On the other hand, carbon content and photosynthesis efficiency are only marginally decreased by 7% and 20%, respectively, indicating that photosynthesis is only slightly reduced upon drastic downregulation of photosynthetic ESTs and chlorophyll content upon ND. In addition, TAG content is found to be greatly increased by 50-fold, though total lipid content is only slightly increased by 1.5-fold.


Taken together, our results suggest that light-harvesting proteins and chlorophylls are in excess in B. sudeticus. Degradation of excess photosynthesis proteins is most likely a mechanism for recycling of nitrogen-rich molecules to synthesize new proteins for preparation of gametogenesis and zygospore formation in adaptation and survival upon ND. Furthermore, our analyses indicate that TAG accumulation is largely attributed to the modification of other pre-existing lipid molecules, rather than de novo synthesis. We propose that this is likely an evolutionarily conserved mechanism in many green microalgae species.

Next-generation sequencing; De novo assembly; Transcriptome profiling; Metabolic pathways; B. sudeticus UTEX2629