Impact of Yeast Pigmentation on Heat Capture and Latitudinal Distribution

Radames J.B. Cordero, Vincent Robert, Gianluigi Cardinali, Ebuka S. Arinze, Susanna M. Thon, Arturo Casadevall

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

27 Scopus citations


Pigmentation is a fundamental characteristic of living organisms that is used to absorb radiation energy and to regulate temperature. Since darker pigments absorb more radiation than lighter ones, they stream more heat, which can provide an adaptive advantage at higher latitudes and a disadvantage near the Tropics, because of the risk of overheating. This intuitive process of color-mediated thermoregulation, also known as the theory of thermal melanism (TTM), has been only tested in ectothermic animal models [1–8]. Here, we report an association between yeast pigmentation and their latitude of isolation, with dark-pigmented isolates being more frequent away from the Tropics. To measure the impact of microbial pigmentation in energy capture from radiation, we generated 20 pigmented variants of Cryptococcus neoformans and Candida spp. Infrared thermography revealed that dark-pigmented yeasts heated up faster and reached higher temperatures (up to 2-fold) than lighter ones following irradiation. Melanin-pigmented C. neoformans exhibited a growth advantage relative to non-melanized yeasts when incubated under the light at 4°C but increased thermal susceptibility at 25°C ambient temperatures. Our results extend the TTM to microbiology and suggest pigmentation as an ancient adaptation mechanism for gaining thermal energy from radiation. The contribution of microbial pigmentation in heat absorption is relevant to microbial ecology and for estimating global temperatures. The color variations available in yeasts provide new opportunities in chromatology to quantify radiative heat transfer and validate biophysical models of heat flow [9] that are not possible with plants or animals. Cordero et al. report that yeasts can use pigments to gain thermal energy from radiation and influence adaptation to thermal environments. Dark-pigmented yeasts absorb more heat than lighter clones, which can be detrimental or advantageous depending on the ambient temperature. The findings extend the theory of thermal melanism to microbiology.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2657-2664.e3
JournalCurrent Biology
Issue number16
StatePublished - Aug 20 2018


  • color-mediated thermoregulation
  • energy color
  • fungal ecology
  • fungal melanin
  • heat capture
  • microbial thermography
  • pigments
  • thermal melanism
  • thermal microbiology
  • yeast radiation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neuroscience(all)
  • Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
  • Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)


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