Biochemistry researchers collaborate on new sunscreen

No lotion needed: Many animals produce own sunscreen

Andrew Karplus, OSU Distinguished University Professor of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and his graduate student Kelsey Kean are part of a team of Oregon State researchers who recently discovered that certain animals are able to produce the sunblock compound Gadusol naturally.

Along with College of Pharmacy professor Taifo Mahmud, who was the lead author on the research, Karplus and Kean contributed analyses of protein structure to help show that zebra fish, a tiny Asian freshwater fish, naturally produces gadusol that protects it from UV rays. Besides zebrafish, OSU reserachers also identified gadusol producing genes in amphibians, reptiles and birds.

The team, which included OSU scientists from the Colleges of Science, Pharmacy and Agriculture, successfully conducted an experiment in which they replicated the Gadusol producing process in yeast. The research reveals that certain species have the capacity to naturally produce gadusol, while it was previously believed that the compound was obtained through their diet.

The research has important implications for humans and the researchers hope that it would one day be possible to produce a safe, ingestible sunscreen pill for humans as well as for use in lotions and cosmetics.

The group’s findings were published last week in the journal eLife and have been widely reported in the news media (Daily Mail, Smithsonian Magazine, Time, NPR, Nature World News, gizmag). Read full press release.

Karplus, who is widely noted for his outstanding research on protein structures, was recently named a Distinguished Professor in the University. He will deliver a public lecture as part of this prestigious honor on “Teaching, Teamwork, ‘Aha!’ Moments and Peering into the World of Proteins” on Thursday, May 21 at 9:30 am in the Hallie Ford Center, room 115.

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