The sea may once again hold the answer to one of our problems. Protection from harmful UV rays. Research that is being carried out at King’s College of London suggests that within five years we could all be able to take an oral sun protection tablet to help keep us safe. Scientists have discovered a natural compound in coral reefs that protects them against the sun’s harmful UV rays.
The scientists are also reportedly very close to reproducing this compound in the lab. Corals have adapted over the centuries to live and thrive in shallow waters allowing them to make the most of the sunlight that they need to survive. This does mean that they are exposed to high levels of UV rays, especially in the tropics where coral reefs grow. Corals are also symbiotic, absorbing photosynthetic algae into their bodies so they can be fed from within. The algae, in turn, are safe from predators and use the corals’ waste for photosynthesis.
“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,” Long says in a statement. “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.” Sunscreen pills do currently exist around the world and are usually based on natural compounds such as antioxidants. These are sold as dietary supplements and are not regulated by any governing bodies.
The new tablet is likely to be available via prescription only as there are potential problems involved. Obviously there is the chance of someone taking an overdose but skin needs some sunlight to remain healthy. Over protection could results in a vitamin D deficiency and weak bones. In addition to providing the solution to the tablet it is hoped the coral compound might be able to help with agricultural farming in tropical regions. It could be possible modify crops to survive the high exposure to sunlight, providing a sustainable food source in third world economies. This research development comes as coral reefs around the world continue to die out. It is hopes that by examining coral’s genetic and biochemical changes as they’re exposed to sunlight in warmer water, the researchers hope to better understand how bleaching works and how to fight it.