As is the case for terrestrial organisms, carotenoids represent the most common group of pigments in marine environments. They are generally biosynthesized by all autotrophic marine organisms, such as bacteria and archaea, algae and fungi. Some heterotrophic organisms also contain carotenoids probably accumulated from food or partly modified through metabolic reactions. These natural pigments are divided into two chemical classes: carotenes (such as lycopene and α- and β-carotene) that are composed of hydrogen and carbon; xanthophylls (such as astaxanthin, fucoxanthin and lutein), which are constituted by hydrogen, carbon and oxygen. Carotenoids, as antioxidant compounds, assume a key role in the protection of cells. In fact, quenching of singlet oxygen, light capture and photosynthesis protection are the most relevant biological functions of carotenoids. The present review aims at describing (i) the biological functions of carotenoids and their benefits for human health, (ii) the most common carotenoids from marine organisms and (iii) carotenoids having large success in pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and cosmeceutical industries, highlighting the scientific progress in marine species cultivation for natural pigments production.
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