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Coral Share UV Secrets

by TFH Magazine on September 1, 2011 at 8:20 am

Corals are shielded by an effective, natural sunscreen that prevents them from being burned. Photograph by the Australian Institute of Marine Sciences.

By David E. Boruchowitz

You’re probably aware that many corals are photosynthetic, making use of the plentiful tropical sunshine to produce their own food with the help of resident zooxanthellae (symbiotic algae in the coral’s tissues). To maximize photosynthesis, these corals live in very shallow water where the sunlight can easily penetrate. As anyone who has visited the tropics can attest, that plentiful sunshine comes with a hefty dose of burning UV radiation. Why don’t corals get sunburned? A team of British scientists studying Acropora coral on the Great Barrier Reef believe they’ve found the answer.

It seems that those zooxanthellae also produce substances that protect against harmful UV rays. Not only do the host corals benefit from this natural sunscreen, fish that feed on the corals also share the protection. This leads the scientists to believe that one day we may be able to get our sunscreen in a pill!

For now, however, they are working on using genetic engineering to obtain bacteria-produced analogues of the sunscreen substances to test in a lotion.

Posted in Aquatic News and David E. Boruchowitz by TFH Magazine on September 1st, 2011 at 8:20 am.

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