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Open Access Highly Accessed Review

Microalgal biofactories: a promising approach towards sustainable omega-3 fatty acid production

T Catalina Adarme-Vega1, David K Y Lim1, Matthew Timmins2, Felicitas Vernen1, Yan Li12 and Peer M Schenk1*

Author Affiliations

1 Algae Biotechnology Laboratory, School of Agriculture and Food Sciences, The University of Queensland, Brisbane, QLD 4072, Australia

2 Centre for Metabolomics, School of Chemistry and Biochemistry, The University of Western Australia M313, 35 Stirling Highway, Crawley, WA 6009, Australia

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Microbial Cell Factories 2012, 11:96  doi:10.1186/1475-2859-11-96

Published: 25 July 2012

Abstract

Omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) provide significant health benefits and this has led to an increased consumption as dietary supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are found in animals, transgenic plants, fungi and many microorganisms but are typically extracted from fatty fish, putting additional pressures on global fish stocks. As primary producers, many marine microalgae are rich in EPA (C20:5) and DHA (C22:6) and present a promising source of omega-3 fatty acids. Several heterotrophic microalgae have been used as biofactories for omega-3 fatty acids commercially, but a strong interest in autotrophic microalgae has emerged in recent years as microalgae are being developed as biofuel crops. This paper provides an overview of microalgal biotechnology and production platforms for the development of omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. It refers to implications in current biotechnological uses of microalgae as aquaculture feed and future biofuel crops and explores potential applications of metabolic engineering and selective breeding to accumulate large amounts of omega-3 fatty acids in autotrophic microalgae.

Keywords:
Docosahexaenoic acid; DHA; Eicosapentaenoic acid; EPA; Microalgae; Omega-3 fatty acids; Polyunsaturated fatty acids