Int J Biol Sci 2014; 10(10):1159-1170. doi:10.7150/ijbs.9672 This issue


Flavonoids and Melanins: A Common Strategy across Two Kingdoms

Giorgia Carletti1✉, Giuseppe Nervo1, Luigi Cattivelli2

1. Consiglio per la Ricerca e la Sperimentazione in Agricoltura, Research Unit for Intensive Wood Production, Strada Frassineto 35, 15033 Casale Monferrato, AL, Italy;
2. Consiglio per la Ricerca e la Sperimentazione in Agricoltura, Genomics Research Centre, via S Protaso 302, I-29107 Fiorenzuola d'Arda, PC, Italy.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution (CC BY-NC) License. See for full terms and conditions.
Carletti G, Nervo G, Cattivelli L. Flavonoids and Melanins: A Common Strategy across Two Kingdoms. Int J Biol Sci 2014; 10(10):1159-1170. doi:10.7150/ijbs.9672. Available from

File import instruction


Ultraviolet (UV) radiations alter a number of metabolic functions in vivant. They produce damages to lipids, nucleic acids and proteins, generating reactive oxygen species such as singlet oxygen (O2), hydroxyl radical (HO) and superoxide anion (O2-). Plants and animals, after their water emersion, have developed biochemical mechanisms to protect themselves from that environmental threat through a common strategy. Melanins in animals and flavonoids in plants are antioxidant pigments acting as free radical scavenging mechanisms. Both are phenol compounds constitutively synthesized and enhanced after exposure to UV rays, often conferring a red-brown-dark tissue pigmentation.

Noteworthy, beside anti-oxidant scavenging activity, melanins and flavonoids have acquired secondary functions that, both in plants and animals, concern reproductions and fitness. Plants highly pigmented are more resistant to biotic and abiotic stresses. Darker wild vertebrates are generally more aggressive, sexually active and resistant to stress than lighter individuals. Flavonoids have been associated with signal attraction between flowers and insects and with plant-plant interaction. Melanin pigmentation has been proposed as trait in bird communication, acting as honest signals of quality.

This review shows how the molecular mechanisms leading to tissue pigmentation have many functional analogies between plants and animals and how their origin lies in simpler organisms such as Cyanobacteria. Comparative studies between plant and animal kingdoms can reveal new insight of the antioxidant strategies in vivant.

Keywords: antioxidant strategy, pigments, horizontal gene transfer (HGT), plants, animals, metabolism, genetic bases, mutants.