Let’s not get ahead of ourselves and expect a product on the shelves in the immediate future, but a research team from Oregon State University have discovered that fish can produce their own sunscreen and copied method used by fish for potential use in humans.
The study published in the journal eLife, found that zebrafish are able to produce a chemical called gadusol that protects against UV radiation.
Scientists were then able to reproduce the method by expressing the relevant genes in yeast, and they say that the findings open the door to large-scale production of gadusol for sunscreen and as an antioxidant in pharmaceuticals.
"The fact that the compound is produced by fish, as well as by other animals including birds, makes it a safe prospect to ingest in pill form," says Professor Taifo Mahmud, lead author of the study.
As well as providing UV protection, gadusol may also play a role in stress responses, in embryonic development, and as an antioxidant.
"In the future it may be possible to use yeast to produce large quantities of this natural compound for sunscreen pills and lotions, as well as for other cosmetics sold at your local supermarket or pharmacy," says Professor Mahmud.
Before getting ahead of ourselves though, Mahmud does state that further studies will be needed to test if and how gadusol is absorbed, distributed, and metabolised in the body to check its efficacy and safety.
Gadusol was originally identified in cod roe and has since been discovered in the eyes of the mantis shrimp, sea urchin eggs, sponges, and in the dormant eggs and newly hatched larvae of brine shrimps.
It was previously thought that fish can only acquire the chemical through their diet or through a symbiotic relationship with bacteria.
Marine organisms in the upper ocean and on reefs are subject to intense and often unrelenting sunlight.
Gadusol and related compounds are of great scientific interest for their ability to protect against DNA damage from UV rays. There is evidence that amphibians, reptiles, and birds can also produce gadusol, while the genetic machinery is lacking in humans and other mammals.