Tyrian purple precursors in the egg masses of the Australian Muricid, Dicathais orbita: a possible defensive role

Kirsten Benkendorff, University of Wollongong
John B. Bremner, University of Wollongong
Andrew R. Davis, University of Wollongong


We report a putative defensive role for the precursors of Tyrian purple in the egg masses of the Australian muricid, Dicathais orbita. The fresh egg masses contain a high proportion of tyrindoleninone, which reacts to form tyriverdin and subsequently Tyrian purple and 6-bromoisatin as the eggs develop and the larvae hatch. Antimicrobial testing revealed that tyrindoleninone is toxic to both marine and human pathogens at a concentration of 1 mg/ml. Tyriverdin inhibits the growth of two marine pathogens, as well as the yeast Candida albicans at 0.001 mg/ml and was effectively bacteriostatic at 0.0005 mg/ml against three human pathogenic bacteria. Tyriverdin did not appear to significantly lyse the microbial cells. 6-Bromoisatin has mild antimicrobial properties, whereas Tyrian purple exhibited no significant activity. The antimicrobial properties of these compounds and changes in their presence during egg development correlates with ripening in the egg masses of D. orbita. This is the first report of the chemical ripening of eggs in a marine environment.