A rapid and noninvasive quantification method for cellular lipids in Chlorella vulgaris is demonstrated in this study. This method applied near-infrared Raman spectroscopy to monitor the change of signal intensities at 1440 cm-1 and 2845-3107 cm-1 along the nitrogen depletion period, and calibration curves relating signal intensity and cellular lipid abundance were established. The calibration curves show that signal intensity at 2845-3107 cm-1 and cellular lipid abundance were highly correlated. When the calibration curve was applied on the lipid quantification of two unknown samples, the differences between lipid abundances estimated by the calibration curve and measured by gas chromatography were less than 2 wt %. Carotenoids produced a strong and broad peak near 1440 cm-1, and it weakened the correlation between signal intensity and lipid abundance. The consistency of detection and effects of cellular contents and water on the Raman spectrogram of Chlorella vulgaris were also addressed. The sample pretreatment only involved centrifugation, and the time required for lipid quantification was shortened to less than 1.5 h. The rapid detection has great potential in high-throughput screening of microalgae and also provides valuable information for monitoring the quality of microalgae culture and determining parameters for the mass production of biodiesel from microalgae.
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