The biosynthetic pathway of carotenoids in the astaxanthin-producing green alga Chlorella zofingiensis

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The carotenoid composition of the astaxanthin-producing green alga Chlorella zofingiensis was investigated using high-performance liquid chromatography. Astaxanthin, adonixanthin, and zeaxanthin are the major carotenoids in this alga. The pigment pattern was characterized during the accumulation period, and in response to diphenylamine (DPA), an inhibitor of carotenoid biosynthesis. An increase in zeaxanthin followed by a decrease in xanthophyll was seen after the induction of astaxanthin biosynthesis by glucose. This biphasic kinetics of zeaxanthin was parallel to the marked increase in adonixanthin (from 0 mg g−1 to 0.21 mg g−1) and astaxanthin (from 0.05 mg g−1 to 0.35 mg g−1) and decrease of β-carotene (from 0.30 mg g−1 to 0.03 mg g−1). More importantly, unlike the Haematococcus alga, in which there was a high β-carotene accumulation after DPA treatment, C. zofingiensis showed an accumulation of extra zeaxanthin instead of β-carotene after treatment of the cells with DPA. All these results observed in vivo studies corroborate the observations in vitro studies at the enzyme level that zeaxanthin is a substrate for the carotenoid oxygenase in C. zofingiensis. It is suggested that zeaxanthin might be an important intermediate and not an end product of the biosynthetic pathway of astaxanthin. Therefore, a new pathway for astaxanthin formation by C. zofingiensis, which is different from that of the other astaxanthin-producing microorganisms, is proposed. An understanding of the astaxanthin biosynthetic pathway may yield important information toward the optimization of astaxanthin production, especially for the improvement of astaxanthin through genetic manipulations.

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