A new discovery has brought to the fore that a natural compound found in coral reefs can act as a protector against sun’s ultraviolet rays. Scientists at King’s College in London have made a discovery and are now very close to synthesizing it in a lab. Once that is done, we can expect oral sunscreen pills, hopefully in five years.
It may also lead to genetically modified crops that can grow in hot climes despite exposure to UV rays. Corals are 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. But because the reefs need sunlight to make food, most live in shallow water which exposes them to UV rays.
To protect themselves from intense UV rays, coral reefs make their own sunscreen. But until now, scientists never knew how they did it — or how we could mimic them.
Researcher Paul Long, who led the King’s College study, said that the algae living within the coral makes a compound that is transported to the coral, which then modifies it into a sunscreen for the benefit of both the coral and the algae.
This means 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.
On top of sunscreen pills, Long hopes the coral compound can also boost sustainable agriculture in the tropics.