The use of the fluorescent fatty acid, parinaric acid (9,11,13,15-octadecatetraenoic acid) (PnA), was studied in cells of an unsaturated fatty acid auxotroph of Escherichia coli. Growth conditions were found that permitted biosynthetic incorporation of PnA (up to 3%) into membrane phospholipids during growth on oleic or elaidic acid. Fluorescence measurements of incorporated PnA revealed phase transitions in cells, membranes, and phospholipids at temperatures that reflected the fatty acid composition of the sample. Transitions had a well-defined onset from high temperature, while the lower end point was less well defined, cis- and trans-PnA (cis, trans, trans, cis, and all trans, respectively) gave comparable results. Similar phase transitions were detected with PnA, which was not biosynthetically incorporated. Fluorescence of tryptophan was measured in E. coli membranes as a function of concentration of PnA. Significant quenching of tryptophan fluorescence by PnA was observed.
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