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Coral pill could protect from sunburn

Coral pill could protect from sunburn Natural sunscreen compounds to be recreated in lab

A pill containing natural compounds derived from coral could protect humans from sunburn, according to the latest research.

Scientists at King's College London have discovered how coral produces natural sunscreen compounds to protect itself from damaging UV rays.

These compounds could form the basis of a new type of sunscreen, one that could be recreated synthetically in the laboratory.

Corals live in shallow water to maximize their exposure to sunlight, which algae living inside them need to create food, but the exposure makes them vulnerable to sunburn.

Study leader Dr Paul Long 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.

Dr Long said his team is very close to being able to reproduce this compound in the laboratory, and could be tested within two years.

Beyond developing a new form of sunscreen, scientists are considering whether the compounds found in coral could be used to produce UV-tolerant crop plants capable of withstanding harsh tropical UV light.

This could be of particular benefit to agriculture in the Third World.

This article was published on Wed 31 August 2011

Image © snaptitude - Fotolia.com

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