The Genetic and Molecular Basis for Sunscreen Biosynthesis in Cyanobacteria

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Science  02 Sep 2010:
DOI: 10.1126/science.1193637


Ultraviolet UV-A and UV-B radiation are harmful to living systems, causing damage to biological macromolecules. An important strategy for dealing with UV exposure is the biosynthesis of small-molecule sunscreens. Among such metabolites, the mycosporine and mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs) are remarkable for their wide phylogenetic distribution and their unique chemical structures. Here, we report the identification of a MAA biosynthetic gene cluster in a cyanobacterium and the discovery of analogous pathways in other sequenced organisms. We have expressed the cluster in a heterologous bacterial host and characterized all four biosynthetic enzymes in vitro. In addition to clarifying the origin of the MAAs, these efforts have revealed two unprecedented enzymatic strategies for imine formation.