If an alligator hangs out in the blazing sun all day, it’s skin won’t peel and blister. But if a fair-haired human lies in the sun unprotected for even just 15-minutes, they’ll get a serious sunburn. Why is that?
According to new research, it’s because some animal species produce a compound called gadusol, which provides protection from ultra-violet rays: aka a genetic sunscreen.
Scientists at Oregon State University have discovered that many types of fish, amphibians, reptiles and birds have the gene that produces gadusol.
“Humans and mammals don’t have the ability to make this compound, but we’ve found that many other animal species do,” said Taifo Mahmud, a professor at Oregon State University and the lead researcher, said in a statement.
“The ability to make gadusol, which was first discovered in fish eggs, clearly has some evolutionary value to be found in so many species. We know it provides UV-B protection, it makes a pretty good sunscreen. But there may also be roles it plays as an antioxidant, in stress response, embryonic development and other functions,” continued Mahmud.
And thanks to these new findings, researchers are one step closer to harnessing the benefits of gadusol for humans.
Mahmud and his team have discovered a way to naturally produce gadusol in high volumes using yeast, which means it may be possible to develop gadusol as an ingredient for different types of sunscreen products.
Previously, scientists thought that the only way vertebrate animals could obtain gadusol was by consuming specific bacteria and algae.
“The ability to directly synthesize what is essentially a sunscreen may play an important role in animal evolution, and more work is needed to understand the importance of this compound in animal physiology and ecology,” the researchers said in the statement.
One day, humans might be able to ingest gadusol and fend off sunburns the way green sea turtles, chickens and alligators do. No more greasy creams!