Background: Rapid, real-time and label-free measurement of the cellular contents of biofuel molecules such as triacylglycerol (TAG) in populations at single-cell resolution are important for bioprocess control and understanding of the population heterogeneity. Raman microspectroscopy can directly detect the changes of metabolite profile in a cell and thus can potentially serve these purposes. Results: Single-cell Raman spectra (SCRS) of the unicellular oleaginous microalgae Nannochloropsis oceanica from the cultures under nitrogen depletion (TAG-producing condition) and nitrogen repletion (non-TAG-producing condition) were sampled at eight time points during the first 96 hours upon the onset of nitrogen depletion. Single N. oceanica cells were captured by a 532-nm laser and the SCRS were acquired by the same laser within one second per cell. Using chemometric methods, the SCRS were able to discriminate cells between nitrogen-replete and nitrogen-depleted conditions at as early as 6 hours with >93.3% accuracy, and among the eight time points under nitrogen depletion with >90.4% accuracy. Quantitative prediction of TAG content in single cells was achieved and validated via SCRS and liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) analysis at population level. SCRS revealed the dynamics of heterogeneity in TAG production among cells in each isogenic population. A significant negative correlation between TAG content and lipid unsaturation degree in individual microalgae cells was observed. Conclusions: Our results show that SCRS can serve as a label-free and non-invasive proxy for quantitatively tracking and screening cellular TAG content in real-time at single-cell level. Phenotypic comparison of single cells via SCRS should also help investigating the mechanisms of functional heterogeneity within a cellular population.
- Bioprocess dynamics
- Population heterogeneity
- Single-cell Raman spectra
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
- Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law