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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Fatty acid profiles and their distribution patterns in microalgae: a comprehensive analysis of more than 2000 strains from the SAG culture collection

Imke Lang12, Ladislav Hodac3, Thomas Friedl3 and Ivo Feussner1*

Author Affiliations

1 Georg-August-University, Albrecht-von-Haller-Institute for Plant Sciences, Department of Plant Biochemistry, Göttingen, Germany

2 Cyano-Biofuels GmbH, Magnussstrasse 11, 12489 Berlin, Germany

3 Georg-August-University, Albrecht-von-Haller-Institute for Plant Sciences, Department of Experimental Phycology and Culture Collection of Algae in Göttingen (EPSAG), Göttingen, Germany

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BMC Plant Biology 2011, 11:124  doi:10.1186/1471-2229-11-124

Published: 6 September 2011



Among the various biochemical markers, fatty acids or lipid profiles represent a chemically relatively inert class of compounds that is easy to isolate from biological material. Fatty acid (FA) profiles are considered as chemotaxonomic markers to define groups of various taxonomic ranks in flowering plants, trees and other embryophytes.


The fatty acid profiles of 2076 microalgal strains from the culture collection of algae of Göttingen University (SAG) were determined in the stationary phase. Overall 76 different fatty acids and 10 other lipophilic substances were identified and quantified. The obtained FA profiles were added into a database providing information about fatty acid composition. Using this database we tested whether FA profiles are suitable as chemotaxonomic markers. FA distribution patterns were found to reflect phylogenetic relationships at the level of phyla and classes. In contrast, at lower taxonomic levels, e.g. between closely related species and even among multiple isolates of the same species, FA contents may be rather variable.


FA distribution patterns are suitable chemotaxonomic markers to define taxa of higher rank in algae. However, due to their extensive variation at the species level it is difficult to make predictions about the FA profile in a novel isolate.