Microbial Ultraviolet Sunscreens

Nat Rev Microbiol. 2011 Oct 3;9(11):791-802. doi: 10.1038/nrmicro2649.


Exposure to the shortest wavelengths in sunlight, ultraviolet light, constitutes a deleterious ecological factor for many microorganisms. The use of secondary metabolites as sunscreens has emerged as an important photoprotective mechanism in certain groups of large-celled microorganisms, such as cyanobacteria, fungi and many protists. In this Review, we describe our current understanding of microbial 'sunscreen' compounds, including scytonemin, the mycosporines and the naphthalene-based melanins. Study of these sunscreens has led to the discovery of new classes of compounds, new metabolic pathways, a deeper understanding of microbial photobiology and the potential for dermatological or biomedical applications.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Amoebozoa / metabolism
  • Amoebozoa / radiation effects*
  • Biosynthetic Pathways
  • Cyanobacteria / metabolism
  • Cyanobacteria / radiation effects*
  • Cyclohexanones / metabolism
  • Fungi / metabolism
  • Fungi / radiation effects*
  • Indoles / metabolism
  • Melanins / metabolism
  • Models, Biological
  • Phenols / metabolism
  • Sunscreening Agents / metabolism*
  • Ultraviolet Rays*


  • Cyclohexanones
  • Indoles
  • Melanins
  • Phenols
  • Sunscreening Agents
  • scytonemin