'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
|Contact: Emma Reynolds|
King's College London