British researchers have discovered how corals are able to resist harmful UV light through their relationship with algae. They have found more than 20 sun-protection compounds within corals that could be used to benefit farmers in developing countries. The new compounds could bolster the current sun protection processes found in temperate crops to allow them to thrive in tropical conditions.
The team from King’s College London, supported by the UK Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council, made the discovery by analysing coral samples from the Great Barrier Reef in Australia.
They found that the mutually dependent relationship between coral and algae is the key to the coral’s ability to survive the sun’s exposure. The team suggested that the algae produce a compound that is transported to the coral which then modifies it for use as a sunscreen. This protects the coral and allows the algae to also benefit as it allows their mutually beneficial relationship to continue.
Whilst still in the early stages of research there is the potential to help increase food security in areas of the developing world. For temperate plants to thrive in tropical conditions they need to be able to withstand the increased exposure to sunlight and have built-in protective mechanisms to reduce the damaging effects of UV light. This technology could be used to ‘strengthen’ the sun-resistance of temperate crops to allow them to survive in tropical conditions.
Temperate crops, such as wheat and potatoes, already have the same genetic pathway as the coral. However by adding extra genes, found within the coral, they could be grown in developing countries. This could expand the diet of the local community and improve their local economy with increased trade opportunities from these new crops.
Information on how this technology can also be used to create sunscreen pills can be found on the guardian website.