Sunscreen! You dutifully slather or spray it on before heading outside, but forget to reapply -- and you get burned. Or, you miss that spot on your back that's impossible to reach without asking for help -- and you get burned.
Coral protects itself from sunburn by converting compounds produced by the algae living inside it into a natural kind of "sunscreen," which protects both the coral and the algae from the sun's harmful UV rays. Scientists already knew that -- now, they are beginning to understand how this happens.
"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," lead researcher Dr. Paul Long explains. "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."
Testing on human skin may begin soon, but before that, the researchers plan to use those coral compounds to create a lotion. Long adds that the research, funded by the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, wouldn't use the coral, an endangered species, itself, but rather would attempt to synthetically copy those key ingredients.
But until sunblock comes in a pill, you can always stick to your SPF sauvignon blanc.
Watch Dr. Peter Long, lead researcher for the project, discuss the larger implications of his work.
Related sunny stories:
- Drink wine, don't get sunburned
- Can't stand the rain? Moods really are tied to the weather
- Real-life vampire, or is it just a sun allergy?
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