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Biological Chemistry

Fish Make Their Own Sunscreens

Biosynthesis: Study shows zebra fish need not acquire UV-blocker gadusol through diet

by Mitch Jacoby
June 1, 2015 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 93, Issue 22

Fish and some vertebrates can produce the sunscreen compound gadusol through biosynthesis pathways, according to an investigation conducted by Taifo Mahmud of Oregon State University, Corvallis, and coworkers (eLife 2015, DOI: 10.7554/elife.05919). The unexpected finding may lead to efficient routes for producing biobased sunscreens and antioxidants for use in cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and other products. Bacteria, fungi, algae, and some marine invertebrates are known to produce mycosporine-like amino acids, gadusols, and related compounds that absorb ultraviolet radiation. The compounds are essential for shielding organisms regularly exposed to intense sunlight. Conventional thinking in this area indicates that bacteria, fungi, and other simple organisms synthesize these compounds, but higher organisms acquire them through their diets. Unexpectedly, the Oregon State team found that zebra­fish make gadusol on their own. They also found that the gadusol biosynthesis gene cluster is present in other fish, birds, reptiles, and amphibians not known to produce gadusol, raising a question about the cluster’s function in those species. And in a demonstration with potential commercial significance, the group showed that engineered yeast containing the fish genes can produce and secrete gadusol.


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