Science Interviews


Mon, 18th May 2015

Zebrafish make their own sunscreen

Taifo Mahmud, Oregon State University

Listen Now    Download as mp3 from the show eLife episode 20: Do newborns feel pain?

We heard earlier about the role of viruses in moving genetic information among Zebrafish sunscreenorganisms. Perhaps, they also had something to do with this next discovery, which is the finding of a microbial gene in vertebrates that encodes a sunscreen-like chemical in microbes as Oregon State University’s Taifo Mahmud explains.

Taifo - We have been working on drug discovery from nature. So, we have been looking at genes that are involved in making natural products that can be used as drug candidates. And then recently, we found genes responsible to make antibiotics or antidiabetic drugs. Most of time, those genes are present in bacteria, but then we accidentally found a similar gene in animals.

Chris - Do those genes then do the analogous job in the vertebrates? Do we know?

Taifo - So far, we don’t  really know the actual of this compound in fish but gadusol and its related compounds have been known to have very good sunscreen activity. At this point, we believe that animals might use gadusol and other similar compounds to protect them from UV. But there is a possibility that this compound is being used for many different reasons as well - for example, for growing or development of the embryo or as antioxidant, for example.

Chris - Where do you think the fish got these genes from?

Taifo - What we found is that organisms, before vertebrates, they do not have the genes but then fish and amphibian, reptile, and birds, they do have the genes. So, we believe at one point during the evolution, those genes were introduced by microorganisms like algae, for example. Because based on our study, we found two different algaes that have very similar set of genes.

Chris - And how did you investigate what the fish are doing with the genes? In other words, how they’re employing the genes and regulating them in their cells?

Taifo - Based on our preliminary study, we found that fish embryo produced the compound. The expression, peaks after 72 hours. So, that’s the reason also we thought the compound has something to do with developments.

Chris - Given that you have found that you can express or that these things are naturally expressed in vertebrate cells, are there any potential medical or therapeutic applications that may come from what you’ve found?

Taifo - Based on what we know about gadusol, it has very good antioxidant properties as well. So, there is a possibility that this compound can be used as a supplements, as well as anti-aging products for example, use in cosmetics. So far, we have not found any antibacterial activity or anticancer activity but obviously, this can be used as cancer-protecting agents.


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