Bacteria Boost Sunscreen

A special substance in microalgae, found in Norway, possesses a pigment that absorbs longer wavelengths of radiation. Continue reading →

A sunlight-absorbing compound that exists naturally in microalgae has been discovered at the bottom of a Norwegian lake, and it could be used to create a more powerful sunscreen.

SINTEF, a research institute in northern Norway, has been dredging the Trondheim Fjord for several years and cataloging microorganisms that absorb sunlight. From one such organism, researchers have extracted a substance called sarcinaxanthin, which possesses a pigment that can absorb long wavelengths of UV radiation.

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Researchers have genetically engineered the substance to create artificial bacteria, which is being farmed in on-site cultivation tanks; the idea being that larger quantities of sarcinaxanthin can then be added in sunscreen for sun-blocking fortification. Promar, a Norwegian company, intends to market the substance as "UVA-blue."

"Current sunscreen does not absorb longer UV light in the 320 to 470 nanometer range. We know that can cause skin cancer, too," Trygve Brautaset, the SINTEF's research director, told Fast Company. "The idea about sarcinaxanthin is to extend protection range for sunscreen to also cover these wave lengths, providing better overall protection."

In 2011, the Food and Drug Administration announced new sunscreen regulations in effort to make companies improve the accuracy or their protection claims, after previous, 30-year-old rules allowed companies to make unverified claim about the "broad spectrum" of UV protection that their products offer. Critics argued that while new SPF regulations adequately measure a product's ability to block shorter UVB rays, users were still at risk from harmful exposure to longer UVA rays.

"UVA-blue is a golden yellow/brown natural compound that in addition to being a sun filter also is as a powerful antioxidant," the company's website states. "The compound protects in the upper UVA and visible blue light region of the solar spectre, and should be combined with UVB filters to achieve a true broad specter protection."

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Typically a pasty stock, Norwegians should take heed, especially as some valley towns are installing mirrors on the surrounding mountainsides to beam sunlight down during the dark winter months.

via Fast Company

Credit: Ariel Skelley/Corbis