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Microbial lipids

  • EcoLipids (funded by ERC consolidator award, 2017-2023)

  • Elucidating the consequences of picocyanobacterial lipid remodelling for global marine primary production estimates (funded by NERC, 2021-2014)


The growth of marine bacteria in the vast open ocean ecosystem is limited by the availability of nutrients. Marine bacteria play a crucial role in marine elemental cycling. Understanding how marine bacteria meet their nutrient demand and how they adapt to nutrient limitation holds the key to predicting the future Oceans’ functioning under natural and anthropogenic changes. Lipids are a major component of all living cells and lipidomics is a large scale, high throughput study of all lipid contents in biological systems. We currently aim to understand how marine bacteria respond to nutrient limitation using a lipidomics approach.

Postdoc research fellows: Richard Guillonneau; Michaela Mausz; Branko Rihtman

Research technicians: Julie Scanlan, Andrew Murphy, Mar Aguilo-Ferretjans

PhD students: Eleonora Silvano, Rachel Stirrup

Cyanobacteria lipids

The oceans play a major role in determining world climate. In part, this is due to the production of oxygen and the consumption of carbon dioxide (CO2) by very small, single celled organisms, which are referred to as the photosynthetic picoplankton. Marine cyanobacteria of the closely-related genera Prochlorococcus and Synechococcus are the prokaryotic components of the photosynthetic picoplankton and are the two most abundant phototrophs on Earth! By fixing CO2 from the atmosphere into biomass these organisms act as a sink for this key greenhouse gas. Phospholipids are a major component of cyanobacterial cell membranes but under conditions of P depletion these P-containing lipids are replaced with non-P containing sulfolipids. The physiological and ecological consequences of this natural remodelling process are unknown. Hence, in this project we will determine how lipid remodelling affects the physiology of marine cyanobacteria.

Postdoc research fellow: Michaela Mausz. PI David Scanlan, CoI Yin Chen

Funder, NERC (2021-2024)

Publications on microbial lipids
  • R Guillonneau, A Murphy, ZJ Teng, P Wang, YZ Zhang, DJ Scanlan, Y Chen (2022) Trade-offs of lipid remodelling in a marine predator-prey interaction in response to phosphorus limitation. Proc Natl Acad Sci, 119 (36) e2203057119 

  • Rihtman B, Puxty RJ, Hapeshi A, Lee Y-J, Zhan Y, Michniewski S, Waterfield NR, Chen F, Weigele P, Millard AD, Scanlan DJ, Chen Y* (2021) A new family of globally distributed lytic roseophage, the Naomiviridae, has unusual thymidine to deoxyuridine substitution. Current Biology, 31, 3199–3206 

  • Jones RA, Shropshire H, Zhao C, Wei T, Murphy A, Lidbury I, Scanlan DJ, Y Chen* (2021) Phosphorus stress induces the synthesis of novel glycolipids in Pseudomonas aeruginosa that confer protection against a last-resort antibiotic. ISME Journal,  

  • Smith AF, Silvano E, Pauker O, Guillonneau R, Quareshy M, Mausz MA, Murphy A, Stirrup R, Rihtman B, Feretjans MA, Brandsma J, Petersen J, Scanlan DJ, Chen Y* (2021) A novel class of sulfur-containing aminolipid widespread in marine roseobacters. ISME Journal  

  • Wei T, Zhao C, Quareshy M, Wu N, Huang S, Zhao Y, Yang P, Mao D, Y Chen* (2021) Characterization of a glycolipid glycosyltransferase with broad substrate specificity from the marine bacterium Candidatus Pelagibacter sp. HTCC7211. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, in press 

  • E Silvano, M Yang, M Wolterink, H-A Giebel, M Simon, D J Scanlan, Y Zhao, Y Chen (2020) Lipidomic analysis of roseobacters of the pelagic RCA cluster and their response to phosphorus limitation, Frontiers In Microbiology

  • AF Smith, B Rihtman, R Stirrup, E Silvano, M Mausz, DJ Scanlan, Y Chen* (2019) Elucidation of glutamine lipid biosynthesis in marine bacteria reveals its importance under phosphorus deplete growth in Rhodobacteraceae. The ISME Journal. 13, 39–49(2019)  

  • T Wei, M Quareshy, Y-Z Zhang, DJ Scanlan, Y Chen (2018) Manganese is essential for PlcP metallophosphoesterase activity involved in lipid remodelling in abundant marine heterotrophic bacteria. Applied and Environmental Microbiology, 84:e01109-18. 

  • Sibastian M, Smith AF, Gonzalez JM, Fredricks HF, Van Mooy B, Koblizek M, Brandsma J, Koster G, Mestre M, Mostajir B, Pitta P, Postle AD, Sanchez P, Gasol JM, Scanlan DJ, Chen Y. (2016) Lipid remodelling is a widespread strategy in marine heterotrophic bacteria upon phosphorus deficiency. The ISME Journal, 10:968–978.

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