Microalgae can produce large quantities of triacylglycerols (TAGs) and other neutral lipids that are suitable for making biofuels and as feedstocks for green chemistry. However, TAGs accumulate under stress conditions that also stop growth, leading to a trade-off between biomass production and TAG yield. Recently, in the model marine diatom Phaeodactylum tricornutum it was shown that inhibition of the target of rapamycin (TOR) kinase boosts lipid productivity by promoting TAG production without stopping growth. We believe that basic knowledge in this emerging field is required to develop innovative strategies to improve neutral lipid accumulation in oleaginous microalgae. In this minireview, we discuss current research on the TOR signaling pathway with a focus on its control on lipid homeostasis. We first provide an overview of the well characterized roles of TOR in mammalian lipogenesis, adipogenesis and lipolysis. We then present evidence of a role for TOR in controlling TAG accumulation in microalgae, and draw parallels between the situation in animals, plants and microalgae to propose a model of TOR signaling for TAG accumulation in microalgae.
- kinase inhibitor
- target of rapamycin