How a Fishy Finding Could Lead to New Sunscreen

Gadusol, a natural sunscreen produced by zebrafish, could lead to improved sunscreen for humans

The fish in the ocean may know something about sunscreen that beachgoers don't.

Oregon State University (OSU) scientists are researching a natural sunscreen that's a little different from what most people are used to. This research was spurred by the discovery that zebrafish produce this natural sunscreen — rather than acquire it from the environment. These OSU researchers said they plan to see whether the mechanism behind this finding could be applied to humans.

This study, published this month in the journal eLife, found that the chemical gadusol may protect zebrafish from the sun's UV radiation.

"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," said lead study author Dr. Taifo Mahmud, a medicinal chemist at OSU's pharmacy school, in a press release.

Researchers once thought that some reptiles and birds acquired gadusol from the environment, but Dr. Mahmud and team's findings suggest some animals produce the chemical themselves.

Here's where it gets good: Dr. Mahmud and team transferred the zebrafish genes thought to be responsible for making gadusol into yeast. Then, the yeast started producing the chemical, meaning there could be a viable route to producing the chemical commercially.

"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," Dr. Mahmud said.

Dr. Mahmud and team said they plan to study how gadusol is absorbed, distributed and metabolized by humans to ensure safety.

The National Institutes of Health funded this research. The authors disclosed no conflicts of interest.