Lipid Biosynthesis and its Regulation in Cyanobacteria

  • Norihiro SatoEmail author
  • Hajime Wada
Part of the Advances in Photosynthesis and Respiration book series (AIPH, volume 30)


According to the endosymbiosis theory, cyanobacteria are assumed to be ancestors of chloroplasts. They are Gram-negative and perform oxygenic photosynthesis via two photosystems, which resemble the photosystems in the chloroplasts of eukaryotic plants. The membranes of cyanobacteria contain four main glycerolipids, three of which are glycolipids, namely, monogalactosyldiacylglycerol (MGDG), digalactosyldiacylglycerol (DGDG), and sulfoquinovosyldiacylglycerol (SQDG), and one of which is the phospholipid phosphatidylglycerol (PG). The lipid composition of cyanobacterial membranes is similar to that of chloroplast membranes, and, in particular, to that of thylakoid membranes, and it is different from that of the membranes of most bacteria, which contain phospholipids as the major glyc-erolipids. The fatty acid composition of the membrane lipids of cyanobacteria differs among strains, and cyanobacteria can be classified into four groups in terms of their fatty acids. Among unsaturated fatty acids, monounsaturated to tetraunsaturated fatty acids have been found in cyanobacteria. In a limited number of cyanobacteria, the fatty acid composition resembles that of chloroplast membranes. The biosynthesis of membrane lipids in cyanobacteria has been studied in vivo by tracer experiments with radio-labeled compounds since the 1980s. However, the characterization and molecular identification of the enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of lipids had to await the cloning of the genes for these enzymes since most of these enzymes are membrane-bound and, thus, their solubilization and subsequent purification are relatively difficult. Genes for the desaturases of cyanobacteria, which introduce double bonds into fatty acids bound to membrane lipids, were cloned in the early 1990s, after identification of the desA gene that was able to complement a mutation that resulted in a defect in desaturation at the Δ12 position. Many genes for enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of various lipid classes were identified in the 2000s with the help of newly available databases of cyanobacterial genomic sequences. Many of the proteins encoded by the identified genes are homologous to their respective counterparts in chloro-plasts, supporting the endosymbiosis theory, but some of them are structurally distinct. This distinction suggests the possibility that original genes were replaced by unrelated genes during the evolution of chloroplasts from cyanobacteria. The biosynthesis of membrane lipids in cyanobacteria is regulated by environmental conditions, indicating that membrane lipids play an active role in adaptive processes. Studies of cyanobacterial lipids have shed light both on the evolution of chloroplasts and the adaptation of photosynthetic organisms to changes in environmental conditions.


Fatty Acid Desaturation Cyanobacterial Genome Sensory Histidine Kinase Eukaryotic Photosynthetic Organism Cyanobacterial Membrane 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.



Acyl-carrier protein


Cytidine 5'-diphosphate


Cytidine 5'-monophosphate


Cytidine 5'-triphosphate

Cyt b5

Cytochrome b 5






Endoplasmic reticulum


Fatty acid synthase




NADPH: ferredoxin oxidoreductase


Glutamine: 2-oxoglutarate aminotransferase (glutamate synthase)


Glycerol 3-phosphate


Glycerol-3-phosphate acyltransferase


Lysophosphatidic acid


Lysophosphatidic acid acyltransferase






Open reading frame


Phosphatidic acid










Uridine 5'-diphosphate


A fatty acid with X carbon atoms and Y double bonds. Where indicated, numbers in parenthesis represent the positions of double bonds relative to the carboxyl end of the hydrocarbon chain



This work was supported in part by Grants-in-Aid from the Promotion and Mutual Aid Corporation for Private Schools of Japan and by a Grant-in-Aid for Scientific Research (no. 20570031) from the Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology of Japan.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Life Sciences, Graduate School of Arts and ScienceUniversity of TokyoMeguro-kuJapan
  2. 2.School of Life SciencesTokyo University of Pharmacy and Life SciencesHachiojiJapan

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