Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 94, Issue 1, pp 29–37 | Cite as

Phylogenetic analysis of genes involved in mycosporine-like amino acid biosynthesis in symbiotic dinoflagellates



Mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs) are multifunctional secondary metabolites involved in photoprotection in many marine organisms. As well as having broad ultraviolet (UV) absorption spectra (310–362 nm), these biological sunscreens are also involved in the prevention of oxidative stress. More than 20 different MAAs have been discovered so far, characterized by distinctive chemical structures and a broad ecological distribution. Additionally, UV-screening MAA metabolites have been investigated and used in biotechnology and cosmetics. The biosynthesis of MAAs has been suggested to occur via either the shikimate or pentose phosphate pathways. Despite their wide distribution in marine and freshwater species and also the commercial application in cosmetic products, there are still a number of uncertainties regarding the genetic, biochemical, and evolutionary origin of MAAs. Here, using a transcriptome-mining approach, we identify the gene counterparts from the shikimate or pentose phosphate pathway involved in MAA biosynthesis within the sequences of the reef-building coral symbiotic dinoflagellates (genus Symbiodinium). We also report the highly similar sequences of genes from the proposed MAA biosynthetic pathway involved in the metabolism of 4-deoxygadusol (direct MAA precursor) in various Symbiodinium strains confirming their algal origin and conserved nature. Finally, we reveal the separate identity of two O-methyltransferase genes, possibly involved in MAA biosynthesis, as well as nonribosomal peptide synthetase and adenosine triphosphate grasp homologs in symbiotic dinoflagellates. This study provides a biochemical and phylogenetic overview of the genes from the proposed MAA biosynthetic pathway with a focus on coral endosymbionts.


UV MAAs Symbiodinium Zooxanthellae Coral–algal symbiosis Coral bleaching 



Thanks to Olga Pantos, Alicia Lloyd and Iris Depaz for helpful comments about the manuscript. This work was supported by a University of Queensland Postdoctoral Fellowship for Women and a Discovery Early Career Researcher Award (DECRA) to NNR.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Biological SciencesUniversity of QueenslandSt. LuciaAustralia

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