Arsenolipid biosynthesis by the unicellular alga Dunaliella tertiolecta is influenced by As/P ratio in culture experiments
The influence of arsenate and phosphate levels in water on the formation of arsenic-containing lipids (arsenolipids) and water-soluble arsenicals by a unicellular marine alga was investigated by exposing Dunaliella tertiolecta to five regimes of arsenic and phosphate, and determining the biosynthesized organoarsenicals with HPLC/mass spectrometry. Under all conditions, the major arsenolipid produced by D. tertiolecta was the novel phytyl 5-dimethylarsinoyl-2-O-methyl-ribofuranoside (AsSugPhytol546) representing ca. 35–65% of total arsenolipids. The new compound contains a phytol aglycone and a methoxy group replacing a sugar hydroxyl – two structural features not previously observed for arsenolipids. Minor arsenolipids were several previously reported arsenosugar phospholipids (AsSugPLs, in particular AsSugPL958 and the previously unknown AsSugPL978), the relative quantities of which increased with increasing phosphate exposure, and an arsenic-containing hydrocarbon (AsHC360), which remained unaffected by the different treatments. The relative amount of total arsenolipids produced by D. tertiolecta remained remarkably constant (ca. 45% of total As) and independent of the culture conditions. In contrast, with rising As-concentrations we observed an increase of hydrophilic arsenicals, which were dominated by arsenate and arsenosugars. The results highlight a possible major difference in arsenic biochemistry between macroalgae and unicellular algae with potential implications for how various algae handle their natural arsenic exposure in the world's oceans.