As many as 250 carotenoids, related to beta-carotene, are found in marine algae and animals. Most of the carotenoids are accumulated by marine animals or derived from their food (algae and bacteria), since most animals do not create new carotenoids.
Sponges contain carotenoids and are therefore brightly colored. Astaxanthin is found in some jelly fish and sea anemones. Mollusks contain lutein, zeaxanthin, fucoxanthin and beta-carotene. Although sea snails are carnivores, they contain astaxanthin from feeding on starfish. Oysters, clams, scallops and mussels contain carotenoids obtained from eating microalgae and modifying algae carotenoids. Fucoxanthin is found in oysters and clams.
In larger animals, astaxanthin is found in octopus, which is obtained by eating plankton. Astaxanthin is the major carotenoid found in crustaceans and is seen in their blue, purple and yellow colors. Many fish accumulate carotenoids, but salmon accumulate astaxanthin in muscle. Beta-carotene and lutein have been reported in dolphins. Whales, which feed on krill, accumulate astaxanthin in their bodies as well.
“Carotenoids are not essential in the nutritional sense.” They do improve health and survival by increasing photoprotection, camouflage, and signaling to others of the species through color. Carotenoids are strongly antioxidant and improve reproduction and immunity in marine animals.
Synthetic carotenoids are used for color in fish grown in aquaculture. Synthetic and natural astaxanthin is used commercially to color trout, salmon, and red sea bream. Lutein from marigold flowers is used to color yellow tail fish and red sea bream. Zeaxanthin from spirulina is used for red in goldfish and ornamental carp.
CONCLUSION: Many interesting and new carotenoids have been found in marine animals in the past decade, and more will be found in the future.
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