Fatty acid composition and N2 solubility in triacylglycerol-rich adipose tissue: the likely importance of intact molecular structure [RESEARCH ARTICLE]

Molly K. Gabler-Smith, Andrew J. Westgate, and Heather N. Koopman

Diving tetrapods (sea turtles, seabirds, marine mammals) are a biologically diverse group; yet, all are under similar constraints: oxygen limitation and increased hydrostatic pressure at depth. Adipose tissue is important in the context of diving because nitrogen gas (N2) is 5 times more soluble in fat than in blood, creating a potential N2 sink in diving animals. Previous research demonstrates that unusual lipid composition (waxes and short chained fatty acids [FA]) in adipose tissue of some whales leads to increased N2 solubility. We evaluated the N2 solubility of adipose tissue from 12 species of diving tetrapods lacking these unusual lipids to explore whether solubility in this tissue can be linked to lipid structure. Across all taxonomic groups, the same 8 FA accounted for 70–80% of the entire lipid profile; almost all adipose tissues were dominated by monounsaturated FA (40.2 – 67.4 mol%). However, even with consistent FA profiles, there was considerable variability in N2 solubility, ranging from 0.051±0.003 to 0.073±0.004 ml N2 ml–1 oil. Interestingly, differences in N2 solubility could not be attributed to taxonomic group (P=0.06) or FA composition (P>0.10). These results lead to two main conclusions: 1) in TAG – only adipose tissues, the FA pool itself may not have a strong influence on N2 solubility; 2) samples with similar FA profiles can have different N2 solubility values, suggesting that 3D arrangement of individual FA within a TAG molecule may have important roles in determining N2 solubility.

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