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The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton

Research project: Phosphorus replacement in diatom lipids: Quantification of phospholipids and non-phosphorus lipids

Currently Active: 

Like many other unicellular organisms, diatoms substitute membrane phospholipids with non-phosphorus analogues, for example betaine (nitrogen based) or sulfolipids under phosphate restriction. This process has been investigated at the level of the lipid headgroups, but the effect on fatty acid composition remains unknown.1

Scanning electron micrograph of the model diatom species Thalassiosira pseudonana. (Nils Kröger, Universität Regensburg)
Diatom - Thalassiosira pseudonana

Scientific Aims:

  • Quantitative characterisation of the lipid profile of T. pseudonana, under phosphate replete and limiting growth conditions.
  • Enhance our understanding of diatom metabolism.
  • Seek environmentally driven lipid profile changes that may represent novel water column/sedimentary biomarkers.




Preliminary data showing the reduction in phospholipid quantities per cell (T. pseudonana, CCMP1335, in culture) over 48 hours following induced phosphate restriction. (Error bars = 1 S.D.; n = 3)
Preliminary data

Diatom Lipids

It has been estimated that marine planktonic diatoms yield up to 25% of global primary production.2 Diatoms represent therefore, a significant source of lipids in the water column and flux to the sediments.

Phosphate is spatially and temporally scarce enough in surface waters to limit primary production.1







Key Contacts

Mr. Jonathon E Hunter (Postgraduate Research Student)

Prof. Rachel Mills (Supervisor)

Prof. George Attard (Supervisor)

Prof. Anthony Postle (Supervisor)

Dr. Mark Moore (Supervisor)


 1. Martin, P., Van Mooy, B. A. S., Heithoff, A. & Dyhrman, S. T. Phosphorus supply drives rapid turnover of membrane phospholipids in the diatom Thalassiosira pseudonana. ISME J 5, 1057-1060 (2011).

2. Hoek, C., Mann, D. G. & Jahns, H. M. Algae: An Introduction to Phycology. Cambridge University Press , 623 (1995).

3. Bligh, E. G. & Dyer, W. J. A Rapid Method of Total Lipid Extraction and Purification. Can J Biochem Physiol  37, 911-917 (1959).

PhDs and Other Opportunities


Associated research themes

Geochemical Ecology

Past Present and Future Environmental Change

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