Open Access Open Badges Research article

Echium acanthocarpum hairy root cultures, a suitable system for polyunsaturated fatty acid studies and production

Elena Cequier-Sánchez12, Covadonga Rodríguez3, Roberto Dorta-Guerra4, Ángel G Ravelo12 and Rafael Zárate2*

Author Affiliations

1 Bio-Organic University Institute AG González, University of La Laguna, Ave. Fco. Sánchez, 38206 La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain

2 Canary Islands Cancer Research Institute (ICIC), La Candelaria University Hospital, Carr. El Rosario 145, 38010 Santa Cruz de Tenerife, Tenerife, Spain

3 Animal Biology Dept., Biology Faculty, University of La Laguna, Ave. Fco. Sánchez, 38206 La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain

4 Statistics and Computation Dept., Maths Faculty, University of La Laguna, Ave. Fco. Sánchez, 38206 La Laguna, Tenerife, Spain

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BMC Biotechnology 2011, 11:42  doi:10.1186/1472-6750-11-42

Published: 27 April 2011



The therapeutic and health promoting role of highly unsaturated fatty acids (HUFAs) from fish, i.e. eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA, 20:5n-3) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA, 22:6n-3) are well known. These same benefits may however be shared by some of their precursors, the polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs), such as stearidonic acid (SDA, 18:4 n-3). In order to obtain alternative sources for the large-scale production of PUFAs, new searches are being conducted focusing on higher plants oils which can contain these n-3 and n-6 C18 precursors, i.e. SDA and GLA (18:3n-6, γ-linolenic acid).


The establishment of the novel Echium acanthocarpum hairy root cultures represents a powerful tool in order to research the accumulation and metabolism of fatty acids (FAs) in a plant particularly rich in GLA and SDA. Furthermore, this study constitutes the first example of a Boraginaceae species hairy root induction and establishment for FA studies and production. The dominant PUFAs, 18:2n-6 (LA, linoleic acid) and 18:3n-6 (GLA), accounted for about 50% of total FAs obtained, while the n-3 PUFAs, 18:3n-3 (ALA, α-linolenic acid) and 18:4n-3 (SDA), represented approximately 5% of the total. Production of FAs did not parallel hairy root growth, and the optimal productivity was always associated with the highest biomass density during the culture period. Assuming a compromise between FA production and hairy root biomass, it was determined that sampling times 4 and 5 gave the most useful FA yields. Total lipid amounts were in general comparable between the different hairy root lines (29.75 and 60.95 mg/g DW), with the major lipid classes being triacylglycerols. The FAs were chiefly stored in the hairy roots with very minute amounts being released into the liquid nutrient medium.


The novel results presented here show the utility and high potential of E. acanthocarpum hairy roots. They are capable of biosynthesizing and accumulating a large range of polyunsaturated FAs, including the target GLA and SDA fatty acids in appreciable quantities.