Single cell assessment of yeast metabolic engineering for enhanced lipid production using Raman and AFM-IR imaging

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

28 Citations (Scopus)


Background: Biodiesel is a valuable renewable fuel made from derivatized fatty acids produced in plants, animals, and oleaginous microbes. Of the latter, yeasts are of special interest due to their wide use in biotechnology, ability to synthesize fatty acids and store large amounts of triacylglycerols while utilizing non-food carbon sources. While yeast efficiently produce lipids, genetic modification and indeed, lipid pathway metabolic engineering, is usually required for cost-effective production. Traditionally, gas chromatography (GC) is used to measure fatty acid production and to track the success of a metabolic engineering strategy in a microbial culture; here we have employed vibrational spectroscopy approaches at population and single cell level of engineered yeast while simultaneously investigating metabolite levels in subcellular structures. 

Results: Firstly, a strong correlation (r 2 > 0.99) was established between Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) lipid in intact cells and GC analysis of fatty acid methyl esters in the differently engineered strains. Confocal Raman spectroscopy of individual cells carrying genetic modifications to enhance fatty acid synthesis and lipid accumulation revealed changes to the lipid body (LB), the storage organelle for lipids in yeast, with their number increasing markedly (up to tenfold higher); LB size was almost double in the strain that also expressed a LB stabilizing gene but considerable variation was also noted between cells. Raman spectroscopy revealed a clear trend toward reduced unsaturated fatty acid content in lipids of cells carrying more complex metabolic engineering. Atomic force microscopy-infrared spectroscopy (AFM-IR) analysis of individual cells indicated large differences in subcellular constituents between strains: cells of the most highly engineered strain had elevated lipid and much reduced carbohydrate in their cytoplasm compared with unmodified cells. 

Conclusions: Vibrational spectroscopy analysis allowed the simultaneous measurement of strain variability in metabolite production and impact on cellular structures as a result of different gene introductions or knockouts, within a lipid metabolic engineering strategy and these inform the next steps in comprehensive lipid engineering. Additionally, single cell spectroscopic analysis measures heterogeneity in metabolite production across microbial cultures under genetic modification, an emerging issue for efficient biotechnological production.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106
Number of pages15
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 10 Apr 2018


  • Fatty acids
  • Heterogeneity
  • Lipid bodies
  • Metabolic engineering
  • Spectroscopy
  • Triacylglycerol

Cite this