De novo synthesis of a sunscreen compound in vertebrates

Elife. 2015 May 12:4:e05919. doi: 10.7554/eLife.05919.


Ultraviolet-protective compounds, such as mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs) and related gadusols produced by some bacteria, fungi, algae, and marine invertebrates, are critical for the survival of reef-building corals and other marine organisms exposed to high-solar irradiance. These compounds have also been found in marine fish, where their accumulation is thought to be of dietary or symbiont origin. In this study, we report the unexpected discovery that fish can synthesize gadusol de novo and that the analogous pathways are also present in amphibians, reptiles, and birds. Furthermore, we demonstrate that engineered yeast containing the fish genes can produce and secrete gadusol. The discovery of the gadusol pathway in vertebrates provides a platform for understanding its role in these animals, and the possibility of engineering yeast to efficiently produce a natural sunscreen and antioxidant presents an avenue for its large-scale production for possible use in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

Keywords: 2-epi-5-epi-valiolone synthase; E. coli; S. cerevisiae; biochemistry; ecology; gadusol; mycosporine; sunscreen; vertebrates; zebrafish.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Amino Acids / biosynthesis*
  • Amino Acids / genetics
  • Amino Acids / metabolism
  • Animals
  • Cyclohexanols / chemistry
  • Cyclohexanols / metabolism*
  • Fishes
  • Fungi
  • Organisms, Genetically Modified
  • Radiation-Protective Agents / chemistry*
  • Ultraviolet Rays*
  • Vertebrates


  • Amino Acids
  • Cyclohexanols
  • Radiation-Protective Agents
  • gadusol