Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Tropical coral could be used to create novel sunscreens for human use, say scientists

Date:
August 31, 2011
Source:
King's College London
Summary:
Researchers have discovered how coral produces natural sunscreen compounds to protect itself from damaging UV rays, leading scientists to believe these compounds could form the basis of a new type of sunscreen for humans.

Researchers at King's College London have discovered how coral produces natural sunscreen compounds to protect itself from damaging UV rays, leading scientists to believe these compounds could form the basis of a new type of sunscreen for humans. This image was taken during a trip to the Great Barrier Reef to collect coral samples for analysis
Credit: Australian Institute for Marine Science and King's College London

Researchers at King's College London have discovered how coral produces natural sunscreen compounds to protect itself from damaging UV rays, leading scientists to believe these compounds could form the basis of a new type of sunscreen for humans.

The team has begun to uncover the genetic and biochemical processes behind how these compounds are produced and eventually hope to recreate them synthetically in the laboratory for use in developing sun protection.

This month, as part of the three-year project funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC), the King's team collected coral samples for analysis from the Great Barrier Reef, a collaboration with Dr Walter Dunlap from the Australian Institute for Marine Science and Prof Malcolm Shick from the University of Maine USA.

Coral is an animal which has a unique symbiotic partnership with algae that lives inside it -- the algae use photosynthesis to make food for the coral and the coral waste products are used by the algae for photosynthesis. Because photosynthesis needs sunlight to work, corals must live in shallow water, which means they are vulnerable to sunburn.

Dr Paul Long, Senior Lecturer from the Institute of Pharmaceutical Science at King's College London, who is leading the project, said: 'We already knew that coral and some algae can protect themselves from the harsh UV rays in tropical climates by producing their own sunscreens but, until now, we didn't know how.

'What we have found is that the algae living within the coral makes a compound that we think is transported to the coral, which then modifies it into a sunscreen for the benefit of both the coral and the algae.

'Not only does this protect them both from UV damage, but we have seen that fish that feed on the coral also benefit from this sunscreen protection, so it is clearly passed up the food chain.

'This led us to believe that if we can determine how this compound is created and passed on, we could biosynthetically develop it in the laboratory to create a sunscreen for human use, perhaps in the form of a tablet, which would work in a similar way.

'We are very close to being able to reproduce this compound in the lab, and if all goes well we would expect to test it within the next two years.'

A long-term goal of the King's study is to look at whether these processes could also be used for developing sustainable agriculture in the Third World, as these natural sunscreen compounds found in coral could be used to produce UV-tolerant crop plants capable of withstanding harsh tropical UV light.

'The part algae play in protecting itself and coral against UV is thought to be a biochemical pathway called the shikimate pathway, found only in microbes and plants. If we could take the part of the pathway that the coral generates, and put this into plants, we could potentially also utilise their shikimate pathway to make these natural sunscreens,' said Dr Long.

'If we do this in crop plants that have been bred in temperate climates for high yield, but that at present would not grow in the tropics because of high exposure to sunlight, this could be a way of providing a sustainable nutrient-rich food source, particularly in need for Third World economies,' he concluded.

Not only has the study revealed the potential of the coral's compound to protect both humans and crops from the sun, but Dr Long's team is also looking for clues as to how climate change is leading to coral 'bleaching', which can lead to coral death.

Bleaching occurs when a rise in sea temperature (by 2-3 degrees more than the summer average) means the algae is lost from the coral tissues, and if the relationship between algae and coral is not re-established, the coral may die. In 1998, world-wide temperature anomalies resulted in a global bleaching event causing major coral mortality on 16 percent of the world's coral reefs. As coral reefs provide a habitat for many forms of sea life, this can lead to significant loss.

Following the recent collection of samples from the Great Barrier Reef, the King's team is looking at the genetic and biochemical changes that occur when coral is exposed to light at higher water temperatures. It is thought that this study will contribute vital knowledge for management and conservation of reef biodiversity in the context of global warming.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by King's College London. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

King's College London. "Tropical coral could be used to create novel sunscreens for human use, say scientists." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 31 August 2011. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110830213627.htm>.
King's College London. (2011, August 31). Tropical coral could be used to create novel sunscreens for human use, say scientists. ScienceDaily. Retrieved September 21, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110830213627.htm
King's College London. "Tropical coral could be used to create novel sunscreens for human use, say scientists." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2011/08/110830213627.htm (accessed September 21, 2014).

Share This



More Earth & Climate News

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Will Climate Rallies Spur Change?

Newsy (Sep. 21, 2014) Organizers of the People's Climate March and other rallies taking place in 166 countries hope to move U.N. officials to action ahead of their summit. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

Thousands March in NYC Over Climate Change

AP (Sep. 21, 2014) Accompanied by drumbeats, wearing costumes and carrying signs, thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Manhattan and other cities around the world on Sunday to urge policy makers to take action on climate change. (Sept. 21) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

Climate Change Rally Held in India Ahead of UN Summit

AFP (Sep. 20, 2014) Some 125 world leaders are expected to commit to action on climate change at a UN summit Tuesday called to inject momentum in struggling efforts to tackle global warming. Duration: 00:41 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

New Music With Recycled Instruments at Colombia Fest

AFP (Sep. 19, 2014) Jars, bottles, caps and even a pizza box, recovered from the trash, were the elements used by four musical groups at the "RSFEST2014 Sonorities Recycling Festival", in Colombian city of Cali. Duration: 00:49 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins