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Surprise - Animals Make Their Own Sunblock

by Will / July, 29 2015 01:30

Two sea turtles on the beach
Turtle Talk: "Sunscreen?"..." tan lines." © Mi-ly

Previously we learned plants make their own sunblock but what about animals? Why don't they get sunburn? Sure some have fur covering their bodies, some live underground and others are nocturnal but what about the rest? What about the alligator or turtle bathing in the sun? Is it their leathery skin? Maybe the dark complexion? Maybe they go online and buy our sunscreen? Well scientists now know.

It's a compound they produce called gadusol. Neve heard of it? Neither had I.


What did the Research Find?

Researchers at Oregon State University studied several species and found a gene that enables the production of gadusol.  This gene is not present in all animals (or humans). In fact, mammals are one of the species that do not have it. They did find it in reptiles, fish, amphibians and birds. Birds surprised me. I can kind of see how fish, reptiles and amphibians might have similar abilities to secrete gadusol but birds seem different. I'm obviously wrong here.

The study says the ability to make gadusol was first discovered in fish eggs of all things. From their they traced it through these other animals and did some tests on gadusol itself.

Now apparently science has known of gadusol (though I'm not sure if they new it worked as a UV filter) for a while but scientists thought animals had to eat it. You see algae, bacteria and a few other lifeforms were known to contain it. But animals actually making it themselves - no way science thought. Mother Nature has a way of surprising us all.


Can it Be Used as a Sunscreen?

A key question for us is can gadusol be used as a sunscreen for humans? Well, not so fast - at least yet.

For one, it's not clear how much protection it offers. What SPF level would it provide? That's a key question.

For two, as far as I can tell they only tested it for UVB protection. They did not test to see if it also offers UVA protection from what I've read. To be a truly broad spectrum sunscreen like ours, you need to offer both UVB and UVA protection. That's not to say it doesn't offer UVA protection or it couldn't be mixed with another UV filter to offer a product that does both. More testing is needed to figure this out.

For three, there's been no tests on humans to see if it works the same and is safe for us. So that would need to be done too. Plus, in the States all UV filters have to be approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) before being used in a sunscreen.


So you can see there are a number of hurdles to go through. Still, it's promising as researchers did find a way to make gadusol in mass production using yeast. We'll definitely be keeping an eye on it here. It would be great to have another natural UV filter. Maybe it'll be gadusol or come from plants.

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