During the past decade, there has been a paradigm shift in our understanding of the roles of intracellular lipid droplets (LDs). New genetic, biochemical and imaging technologies have underpinned these advances, which are revealing much new information about these dynamic organelles. This review takes a comparative approach by examining recent work on LDs across the whole range of biological organisms from archaea and bacteria, through yeast and Drosophila to mammals, including humans. LDs probably evolved originally in microorganisms as temporary stores of excess dietary lipid that was surplus to the immediate requirements of membrane formation/turnover. LDs then acquired roles as long-term carbon stores that enabled organisms to survive episodic lack of nutrients. In multicellular organisms, LDs went on to acquire numerous additional roles including cell- and organism-level lipid homeostasis, protein sequestration, membrane trafficking and signalling. Many pathogens of plants and animals subvert their host LD metabolism as part of their infection process. Finally, malfunctions in LDs and associated proteins are implicated in several degenerative diseases of modern humans, among the most serious of which is the increasingly prevalent constellation of pathologies, such as obesity and insulin resistance, which is associated with metabolic syndrome.
- lipid droplet