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Coral research inspires sunscreen pill

By Shane Graber - Posted Aug 31, 2011 06:00 AM
A team of researchers led by Dr. Paul Long plans to test a lotion containing the biochemical, UV-resistant compound found in coral in order to create the next generation of sunscreen ... possibly in the form of a pill!
Coral research inspires sunscreen pill

This beautiful staghorn coral is a muse to hobbyist and scientists alike. Photo by Brian Gratwicke

Don't forget to eat your sunscreen?

Dr. Paul Long states: "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."

Earlier in the year, scientists cracked the complete genome of two Acropora species: Acropora millepora and Acropora digitifera.  The King's College London team has based their work on Acropora microphthalma.

The researchers plans to copy the genetic code of zooxanthellae responsible for these UV-protective compounds and replicate them en masse using bacteria (because culturing this compound with coral is impractical).  The ultimate goal is to manufacturer tablets with this compound to create the world's first consumable suncreen pill.  But to start, the team will create a topical lotion for clinical trials on human skin discarded after cosmetic surgery tummy tucks to see how effective these compounds are at protecting against UV.  The researchers must also determine how these compounds might interfere with the human body's production of Vitamin D - a vitamin naturally synthesized via exposure to solar radiation.

There are innumerable applications this coral research may make possible.  The team is also investigating the use of this compound to increase agricultural sustainability, especially in third world countries.  The UV-protective qualities of the coral compound could increase crops' resistance to the intense sunlight of tropical and desert geographies.

The study is funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council.

[via BBC News]

Author: Shane Graber
Location: Indiana

Shane has kept saltwater tanks for the last 12 years, is a research scientist, lives in northern Indiana, and is a proud Advanced Aquarist staffer.


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