Sea cucumber, Apostichopus japonicus (Selenka), is a commercially important marine species in China. Among the differently colored varieties sold in China, white and purple sea cucumbers have the greatest appeal to consumers. Identification of the pigments that may contribute to the formation of different color morphs of sea cucumbers will provide a scientific basis for improving the cultivability of desirable color morphs. In this study, sea cucumbers were divided into four categories according to their body color: white, light green, dark green, and purple. The pigment composition and contents in the four groups were analyzed by high performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). The results show that the pigment contents differed significantly among the white, light-green, dark-green, and purple sea cucumbers, and there were fewer types of pigments in white sea cucumber than in the other color morphs. The only pigments detected in white sea cucumbers were guanine and pteroic acid. Guanine and pteroic acid are structural colors, and they were also detected in light-green, dark-green, and purple sea cucumbers. Every pigment detected, except for pteroic acid, was present at a higher concentration in purple morphs than in the other color morphs. The biological color pigments melanin, astaxanthin, β-carotene, and lutein were detected in light-green, dark-green, and purple sea cucumbers. While progesterone and lycopene, which are also biological color pigments, were not detected in any of the color morphs. Melanin was the major pigment contributing to body color, and its concentration increased with deepening color of the sea cucumber body. Transmission electron microscopy analyses revealed that white sea cucumbers had the fewest epidermal melanocytes in the body wall, and their melanocytes contained fewer melanosomes as well as non-pigmented pre-melanosomes. Sea cucumbers with deeper body colors contained more melanin granules. In the body wall of dark-green and purple sea cucumbers, melanin granules were secreted out of the cell. The results of this study provide evidence for the main factors responsible for differences in coloration among white, light-green, dark-green, and purple sea cucumbers, and also provide the foundation for further research on the formation of body color in sea cucumber, A. japonicus.
Lili XING, Lina SUN, Shilin LIU, Xiaoni LI, Ting MIAO, Libin ZHANG, Hongsheng YANG. Comparison of pigment composition and melanin content among white, light-green, dark-green, and purple morphs of sea cucumber, Apostichopus japonicus[J]. ACTA OCEANOLOGICA SINICA, 2017, 36(12): 45-51. doi: 10.1007/s13131-017-1056-5.