Uncovering the secret of how coral shields itself against harmful ultraviolet rays could pave the way for the first sunscreen pill
The key to sun protection could lie under the sea as scientists believe understanding of the way coral shields itself against harmful ultraviolet rays could help make sunscreen pills for humans.
Researchers from King’s College London visited Australia’s Great Barrier Reef to study samples of the endangered Acropora coral and uncover the genetic and biochemical processes behind coral’s defence mechanism.
‘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,’ says Dr Paul Long, who led the team.
‘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.’
Scientists have known for some time that coral and some algae have the ability to protect themselves from harsh UV rays in tropical climates. This could ultimately mean that in time people might be able to get inbuilt sun protection for their skin.
‘Once we recreate the compounds we can put them into a lotion and test them on skin,’ says Dr Long. ‘We will not know how much protection against the sun it might give until we begin testing, but there is a need for better sunscreens.’