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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

Tech Note: Bacterial Sunscreen

Air Date: Week of

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Living on Earth's Cynthia Graber reports that deep sea bacteria can help make sunscreen more effective.


TOOMEY: Just ahead, your home could be harboring unseen creatures that may be hazardous to your health. First, this Environmental Technology Note from Cynthia Graber.

GRABER: A French cosmetics company has discovered a new way to make sunscreen more protective by using bacteria from the ocean. Conventional sunscreen doesn't protect against all types of long-term skin damage. If ultraviolet rays penetrate the sunscreen's filter, they can create what are known as free radicals. These free radicals can lead to cell damage and, potentially, even to skin cancer. There are enzymes that can neutralize free radicals, but these enzymes wouldn't be very effective in the sun because they break down in the heat. Deep sea bacteria thrive in the scaldingly hot waters of thermal vents, far below the ocean's surface, and they live in an environment rich in free radicals, so scientists guessed they must have the right enzymes to neutralize them. They fermented the bacteria and then extracted proteins and enzymes from them. It turns out that the scientists' hunch was correct. These compounds do help combat free radicals created by the sun's ultraviolet rays. And not only can the compounds work under the sun's beating rays, but they actually perform better the hotter it gets. That's this week's Technology Note. I'm Cynthia Graber.

TOOMEY: And you're listening to Living on Earth.



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