• allocation;
  • ammonium;
  • FT-IR;
  • nitrate;
  • starvation;
  • spectroscopy

Fourier Transform Infrared (FT-IR) spectroscopy was used to study carbon allocation patterns in response to changes in nitrogen availability in the diatom Chaetoceros muellerii Lemmerman. The results of the FT-IR measurements were compared with those obtained with traditional chemical methods. The data obtained with both FT-IR and chemical methods showed that nitrogen starvation led to the disappearance of the differences in cell constituents and growth rates existing between cells cultured at either high [NO3] or high [NH4+]. Irrespective of the nitrogen source supplied before nitrogen starvation, a diversion of carbon away from protein, chlorophyll, and carbohydrates into lipids was observed. Under these conditions, cells that had previously received nitrogen as nitrate appeared to allocate a larger amount of mobilized carbon into lipids than cells that had been cultured in the presence of ammonia. All these changes were reversed by resupplying the cultures with nitrogen. The rate of protein accumulation in the N-replete cells was slower than the rate of decrease under nitrogen starvation. This study demonstrates that the relative proportions of the major macromolecules contained in microalgal cells and their changes in response to external stimuli can be determined rapidly, simultaneously, and inexpensively using FT-IR. The technique proved to be equally reliable to and less labor intensive than more traditional chemical methods.