Sunscreen mucilage: a photoprotective adaptation found in terrestrial green algae (Zygnematophyceae)
Terrestrial microalgae evolved a variety of photoprotective strategies enabling a life on land. This includes the production of sunscreen compounds, which shield cells from excess radiation. Here, we report a new genus of conjugating green algae, Serritaenia gen. nov., whose members produce extracellular mucilage with a striking pigmentation. This phenomenon is very unusual for eukaryotic algae and poses cell biological and functional questions. So far, extracellular sunscreen pigments are exclusively known from cyanobacteria, while eukaryotic algae typically contain intracellular sunscreens. We demonstrate that pigmented mucilage in Serritaenia spp. can be induced by experimental exposure to UVB in an intensity-dependent manner, and that it strongly absorbs deleterious wavebands. Microscopic details of UVR-treated cells suggest that the directional secretion of pigmented mucilage is responsible for the defined and well-oriented pigment layers observed in natural material. Even though the chemical nature of the pigment remains to be elucidated, several pieces of evidence suggest that the ‘sunscreen mucilage’ of Serritaenia represents an elaborate photoprotective adaptation, unprecedented in eukaryotic algae.