Chemoenzymatic elaboration of the Raper–Mason pathway unravels the structural diversity within eumelanin pigments†
Melanin is a central polymer in living organisms, yet our understanding of its molecular structure remains unresolved. Here, we apply a biosynthetic approach to explore the composite structures accessible in one type of melanin, eumelanin. Using a combination of solid-state NMR, dynamic nuclear polarization, and electron microscopy, we reveal how a variety of monomers are enzymatically polymerized into their corresponding eumelanin pigments. We demonstrate how this approach can be used to unite structure with an understanding of enzymatic activity, substrate scope, and the regulation of nanostructural features. Overall, this data reveals how intermediate metabolites of the Raper–Mason metabolic pathway contribute to polymerization, allowing us to revisit the original proposal of how eumelanin is biosynthesized.