Tired of making sure to regularly slather on that sunscreen on yourself or on your kids, all summer long? And what about missed spots, and it’s greasy, and you ran out, or it’s expired (yes, sunscreens do have expiration dates)? What if a pill could work just as well? Believe it or not, that day might not be that far off!
A combined group comprised of researchers from the University of Maine, King’s College of London, and the Australian Institute for Marine Science have recently made some breakthrough discoveries that could change the way we think about sun and UV protection. The researchers were analyzing coral samples from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia and determined that algae living within the coral were producing a special compound which was being actively supplied to the coral. The coral in turn then further metabolically modified this compound as the next step in a sort of symbiotic biosynthesis. The final compound? It is a chemical sunscreen that limits the harmful effects of UV radiation, protecting both the algae and the coral from the dangerous and powerful Australian sun! It gets even more interesting – fish feeding on the coral or algae are ingesting this compound and reaping the same UV protection benefits! Just how far up the food chain does this protective compound go? We don’t have that answer yet.
The details of all this are currently being further clarified but researchers have actually known for some time that something was going on; tropical environments with intense sun bombards everything alive with dangerous UV rays. Some sort of unexplained mechanism of sun protection was evident with some coral species – we now seem to have a handle on exactly how it is happening.
The researchers have now opened the door to some intriguing thoughts. Hopefully, we will soon be able to clearly identify how this compound is created, how it actually works in blocking UV rays, and how it is transferred for use from one species to another. Might that enable us to develop a sunscreen “pill” for human use? That would be incredible. Or what if we could “feed” the compound to plants and crops around the world where the intense sun rays and harmful UV radiation only serve to further decimate the vegetation in drought-prone areas? That would be life-saving.
Hopefully, we will all hear more about this area of important research in the immediate future.
Dr. Lyle Back is Board Certified by the American Board of Plastic Surgery (ABPS) and a longstanding member of the premier American Society of Plastic Surgeons (ASPS). He specializes in the full range of the most modern and state of the art cosmetic procedures (surgical and non-surgical) available today.