Scientists have identified a new compound that can be used to “create a sunscreen for human use”. Researchers at King’s College London have discovered how coral produces natural sunscreen compounds to protect itself from damaging UV rays.
Coral is an animal that 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,” added Long.
Recall experience in India