COLUMBUS, Ohio, May 12 (UPI) -- How can leathery-skinned animals stay out in the sun all day and not worry about getting sunburns and being overloaded with ultraviolet rays? They secrete their own sunscreen, that's how.
Long ago, natural genetic engineering gifted several lineages of birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish the ability to produce and secrete a compound called gadusol, which protects the skin from UV rays. The coding was passed along over millions of years of evolution.
"The ability to make gadusol, which was first discovered in fish eggs, clearly has some evolutionary value to be found in so many species," lead author Taifo Mahmud, a pharmacology professor at Ohio State University, said in a press release. "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."
Trout, alligators, sea turtles and clucking hens can all hang out on the beach and not worry about whether they left the lotion in the car. Unfortunately, humans aren't so lucky.
"Humans and mammals don't have the ability to make this compound, but we've found that many other animal species do," Mahmud explained.
But humans could one day benefit from gadusol. Researchers are currently working on cost-effective ways to synthesize and grow from yeast it in the lab. And Mahmud thinks it's possible the substance could lead to the creation of an ingestible systematic sunscreen -- a substance offering humans the sun-blocking powers of the trout and the alligator.
The new research was published in the journal eLife.