Tilden AR, Becker MA, Amma LL, Arciniega J, McGaw AK. Melatonin production in an aerobic photosynthetic bacterium: An evolutionarily early association with darkness. J. Pineal Res. 1997; 22:102–106. © Munksgaard, Copenhagen
Melatonin was measured in a species of aerobic photosynthetic bacteria, Erythrobacter longus, grown in either constant light or constant dark. A radioimmunoassay was used to quantify melatonin levels and thin-layer chromatography to confirm the identity of melatonin immunoactivity. Melatonin levels were significantly higher (nearly 2.3-fold) in the dark-grown than in the light-grown samples. Also, the homogenates of the dark-grown bacteria retained melatonin-producing enzymatic activity, whereas the light-grown homogenates did not; melatonin levels extracted from the dark-grown homogenates increased with increasing extraction time, reaching as high as 29.2 ng-mg-1 protein at 120 min. Removal of membrane fragments from homogenates did not influence melatonin levels in light-grown homogenate, but this procedure increased melatonin levels in dark-grown homogenate, indicating that at least some of the enzymes in the pathway of melatonin production are not membrane-bound. This study is the second to demonstrate the presence of melatonin at the prokaryotic level, supporting the evidence that melatonin appeared very early in evolution. Its function in prokaryotes has not been determined, but may relate to its antioxidative actions.