Eur. J. Entomol. 111 (2): 149-164, 2014 | DOI: 10.14411/eje.2014.021

Biochemistry and biosynthesis of insect pigments

Gulsaz SHAMIM1,2, Sanjeev K. RANJAN2, Dev M. PANDEY1, Ranganathan RAMANI2
1 Department of Biotechnology, Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra, Ranchi - 835215, Jharkhand, India; e-mails: gulsazshamim@gmail.com; dmpandey@bitmesra.ac.in
2 Indian Institute of Natural Resins and Gum, Namkum, Ranchi - 834010, Jharkhand, India; e-mails: skranjan1@gmail.com; ramani_9@scientist.com

The functional role and commercial importance of insect pigments have been studied for well over a century. They are classified into those synthesized by insects, which include anthraquinones, aphins, pterins, tetrapyrroles, ommochromes, melanins and papiliochromes, and those sequestered from their host plants, the antioxidative carotenoids and water-soluble flavonoids. They can also be categorized into those that are produced by cyclization of linear precursors, e.g. anthraquinones, aphins and tetrapyrroles and those derived from cyclic precursors such as pterins, ommochromes, melanins and anthocyanins. Anthraquinones and aphins are derived by cyclization of linear polyketides via successive condensation of simple carboxylic acid metabolites and occur in two major Superfamilies of Hemiptera, the Coccoidea and Aphidoidae, respectively. Ommochromes, tetrapyrroles and melanins are derived from different amino acid precursors, tryptophan, glycine and tyrosine, respectively. Apart from providing body colouration, ommochromes are visual pigments, melanins act as a protectant against UV and tetrapyrroles facilitate oxygen transport to cells. Papiliochromes are synthesized using both, the essential amino acids tyrosine and tryptophan. Pterins are derived from guanosine triphosphate (GTP) and are also present in ommatidia of eyes. The sequestered pigments, anthocyanins and carotenoids, are synthesized from phenylalanine and by condensation of two isoprene units, respectively, in plants. The biosyntheses of chemochromes in insects are governed by a complex set of enzymes, pathways and genetics. This review provides a comprehensive understanding of the molecules that are not only responsible for the striking colours but also provide functional benefits for insects. The commercially important pigments are also discussed.

Keywords: Chemochromes, colouration, pathway, insect pigment

Received: September 10, 2013; Accepted: November 7, 2013; Prepublished online: February 24, 2014; Published: May 5, 2014

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