- Polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) exogenously supplied to the red microalga Porphyridium cruentum were incorporated into cellular lipids. All the C18 PUFAs studied were desaturated by a delta 6-desaturase and all the C20 PUFAs by a delta 5-desaturase. The latter enzyme desaturated even 20:2(11, 14) to 20:3(5, 11, 14) and 20:3(11, 14, 17) to 20:4(5, 11, 14, 17). We infer the existence of several fatty acid desaturases, with different chain length specificities. Furthermore, the introduction of double bonds in a methylene interrupted pattern, at least for alpha-type desaturase such as the delta 5- and delta 6-desaturases, is not an intrinsic property of the enzyme but a consequence of the arrangement of the pre-existing double bonds in the fatty acid substrate.