A transcriptomic approach to the metabolism of tetrapyrrolic photosensitizers in a marine annelid

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The past decade has seen growing interest in marine natural pigments for biotechnological applications. One of the most abundant classes of biological pigments is the tetrapyrroles, which are prized targets due their photodynamic properties; porphyrins are the best known examples of this group. Many animal porphyrinoids and other tetrapyrroles are produced through heme metabolic pathways, the best known of which are the bile pigments biliverdin and bilirubin. Eulalia is a marine Polychaeta characterized by its bright green coloration resulting from a remarkably wide range of greenish and yellowish tetrapyrroles, some of which have promising photodynamic properties. The present study combined metabolomics based on HPLC-DAD with RNA-seq transcriptomics to investigate the molecular pathways of porphyrinoid metabolism by comparing the worm’s proboscis and epidermis, which display distinct pigmentation patterns. The results showed that pigments are endogenous and seemingly heme-derived. The worm possesses homologs in both organs for genes encoding enzymes involved in heme metabolism such as ALAD, FECH, UROS, and PPOX. However, the findings also indicate that variants of the canonical enzymes of the heme biosynthesis pathway can be species-and organ-specific. These differences between molecular networks contribute to explain not only the differential pigmentation patterns between organs, but also the worm’s variety of novel endogenous tetrapyrrolic compounds.

Original languageEnglish
Article number3924
Issue number13
Publication statusPublished - 27 Jun 2021


  • Annelida
  • Bile pigments
  • Bioinformatics
  • Heme
  • Photodynamic
  • Porphyrin metabolism


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