The green alga Nannochloropsis sp. QII was cultivated in media with sufficient and growth-limiting levels of nitrogen (nitrate). Nitrogen deficiency promoted lipid synthesis yielding cells with lipids comprising 55% of the biomass. The major lipids were triacylglycerols (79%), polar lipids (9%) and hydrocarbons (2.5%). The polar lipids consisted of a broad range of phospholipids, glycolipids and sulfolipids. Other lipids identified were pigments, free fatty acids, saponifiable and unsaponifiable sterol derivatives, various glycerides, a family of alkyl-1, 4-dioxane derivatives and a series of alkyl- and hydroxyalkyl-dimethyl-acetals. Experiments in which 14CO2 was provided at different times in the growth cycle demonstrated that enhanced lipid biosynthesis at low nitrogen levels resulted principally from de novo CO2 fixation.