King’s College London scientists are trying to use coral’s natural defense against the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays to make a sunscreen pill.
The team, who studied samples of the endangered Acropora coral in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, found that they could synthetically replicate the key compounds which help corals fight UV rays.
Scientists plan to test a lotion containing the coral compounds before making a tablet version, the state-funded BBC reported.
Led by Dr. Paul Long, the team first will copy the coral’s anti UV genetic code to make the compounds and then replicate it in lab to produce large quantities of it.
“We couldn’t and wouldn’t want to use the coral itself as it is an endangered species,” Dr. Long said.
“Once we recreate the compounds we can put them into a lotion and test them on skin discarded after cosmetic surgery tummy tucks,” he added.
“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.”
Scientists knew that corals and some algae could protect themselves against harmful sunrays, but they did not 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,” said Dr. Long.
“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.”
Researchers are also planning to find out if the processes could be used for developing sustainable agriculture in the Third World.
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