Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Hydrocarbon phenotyping of algal species using pyrolysis-gas chromatography mass spectrometry

Dinesh K Barupal1, Tobias Kind1, Shankar L Kothari2, Do Yup Lee1 and Oliver Fiehn1*

Author Affiliations

1 Genome Center, University of California, Davis, USA

2 Department of Botany, University of Rajasthan, Jaipur, India

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BMC Biotechnology 2010, 10:40  doi:10.1186/1472-6750-10-40

Published: 21 May 2010



Biofuels derived from algae biomass and algae lipids might reduce dependence on fossil fuels. Existing analytical techniques need to facilitate rapid characterization of algal species by phenotyping hydrocarbon-related constituents.


In this study, we compared the hydrocarbon rich algae Botryococcus braunii against the photoautotrophic model algae Chlamydomonas reinhardtii using pyrolysis-gas chromatography quadrupole mass spectrometry (pyGC-MS). Sequences of up to 48 dried samples can be analyzed using pyGC-MS in an automated manner without any sample preparation. Chromatograms of 30-min run times are sufficient to profile pyrolysis products from C8 to C40 carbon chain length. The freely available software tools AMDIS and SpectConnect enables straightforward data processing. In Botryococcus samples, we identified fatty acids, vitamins, sterols and fatty acid esters and several long chain hydrocarbons. The algae species C. reinhardtii, B. braunii race A and B. braunii race B were readily discriminated using their hydrocarbon phenotypes. Substructure annotation and spectral clustering yielded network graphs of similar components for visual overviews of abundant and minor constituents.


Pyrolysis-GC-MS facilitates large scale screening of hydrocarbon phenotypes for comparisons of strain differences in algae or impact of altered growth and nutrient conditions.