Filamentous green algae of the genus Zygnema (Zygnematophyceae, Streptophyta) are key components of polar hydro-terrestrial mats where they face various stressors including UV irradiation, freezing, desiccation and osmotic stress. Their vegetative cells can develop into pre-akinetes, i.e. reserve-rich, mature cells. We investigated lipid accumulation and fatty acid (FA) composition upon pre-akinete formation in an Arctic and an Antarctic Zygnema strain using transmission electron microscopy and gas chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry. Pre-akinetes formed after 9 weeks of cultivation in nitrogen-free medium, which was accompanied by massive accumulation of lipid bodies. The composition of FAs was similar in both strains, and α-linolenic acid (C18:3) dominated in young vegetative cells. Pre-akinete formation coincided with a significant change in FA composition. Oleic (C18:1) and linoleic (C18:2) acid increased the most (up to 17- and 8-fold, respectively). Small amounts of long-chain polyunsaturated FAs were also detected, e.g. arachidonic (C20:4) and eicosapentaenoic (C20:5) acid. Pre-akinetes exposed to desiccation at 86% relative humidity were able to recover maximum quantum yield of photosystem II, but desiccation had no major effect on FA composition. The results are discussed with regard to the capability of Zygnema spp. to thrive in extreme conditions.
One sentence summary: Green algae Zygnema spp. survive in the Arctic and Antarctica as pre-akinetes, which are modified vegetative cells that accumulate lipids with oleic and linoleic acid being the main fatty acids.