A high throughput Nile red method for quantitative measurement of neutral lipids in microalgae

Wei Chen, Chengwu Zhang, Lirong Song, Milton Sommerfeld, Qiang Hu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

571 Scopus citations


Isolation of high neutral lipid-containing microalgae is key to the commercial success of microalgae-based biofuel production. The Nile red fluorescence method has been successfully applied to the determination of lipids in certain microalgae, but has been unsuccessful in many others, particularly those with thick, rigid cell walls that prevent the penetration of the fluorescence dye. The conventional "one sample at a time" method was also time-consuming. In this study, the solvent dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) was introduced to microalgal samples as the stain carrier at an elevated temperature. The cellular neutral lipids were determined and quantified using a 96-well plate on a fluorescence spectrophotometer with an excitation wavelength of 530 nm and an emission wavelength of 575 nm. An optimized procedure yielded a high correlation coefficient (R2 = 0.998) with the lipid standard triolein and repeated measurements of replicates. Application of the improved method to several green algal strains gave very reproducible results with relative standard errors of 8.5%, 3.9% and 8.6%, 4.5% for repeatability and reproducibility at two concentration levels (2.0 μg/mL and 20 μg/mL), respectively. Moreover, the detection and quantification limits of the improved Nile red staining method were 0.8 μg/mL and 2.0 μg/mL for the neutral lipid standard triolein, respectively. The modified method and a conventional gravimetric determination method provided similar results on replicate samples. The 96-well plate-based Nile red method can be used as a high throughput technique for rapid screening of a broader spectrum of naturally-occurring and genetically-modified algal strains and mutants for high neutral lipid/oil production.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)41-47
Number of pages7
JournalJournal of Microbiological Methods
Issue number1
StatePublished - Apr 2009


  • Biofuel
  • Fluorescence
  • Green algae
  • Microalgae
  • Neutral lipids
  • Nile red

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Microbiology
  • Molecular Biology
  • Microbiology (medical)


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