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
|Contact: Emma Reynolds|
King's College London