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Sunscreen: Fish Inspire New Type of UV Radiation Protection for Humans

May 13, 2015 12:59 PM EDT
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With spring projected to be shorter than ever this year, summer is fast approaching, and that means it's about time to lather up on sunscreen. And now that scientists have discovered that fish can produce their own sunscreen, it has inspired them to make the product for humans.

Scientists from Oregon State University reported in the journal eLife that zebrafish are able to produce a chemical called gadusol that protects against UV radiation. Amazingly, the team has copied this method by expressing the relevant genes in yeast, opening the door to large-scale production of gadusol for sunscreen and as an antioxidant in pharmaceuticals.

"The fact that the compound is produced by fish, as well as by other animals including birds, makes it a safe prospect to ingest in pill form," Professor Taifo Mahmud, the study's lead author, said in a press release.

However, Mahmud and his colleagues are quick to note that further research is needed to test if and how gadusol is absorbed, distributed, and metabolized in the body to check its efficacy and safety in humans.

Gadusol was originally identified in cod roe and has since been discovered in the eyes of the mantis shrimp, sea urchin eggs, sponges, and in the dormant eggs and newly hatched larvae of brine shrimps. It was previously thought that fish could only acquire the chemical through their diet or through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria, but that does not seem to be the case.

Marine organisms in the upper ocean and on reefs are subject to intense and constant sunlight, so having a natural way of producing sunscreen to protect against DNA damage from UV rays is important.

What's more, humans and other mammals seem to be the odd ones out, as there is evidence that besides fish, amphibians, reptiles, and birds can also produce gadusol.

But after successfully producing gadusol in yeast, scientists have shown that commercialization of the sunscreen-like substance may soon be possible.

"In the future it may be possible to use yeast to produce large quantities of this natural compound for sunscreen pills and lotions, as well as for other cosmetics sold at your local supermarket or pharmacy," Mahmud concluded.

For more great nature science stories and general news, please visit our sister site, Headlines and Global News (HNGN).

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