The plants could be instrumental in protecting our skin and planet from ever-increasing ultraviolet rays.
In a remarkable discovery, University of Santiago researchers identified molecules in two species of Antarctic flowering plants that protect the plants from solar radiation. Scientists in Chile who have the discovered the molecules believe that this discovery could lead to the development of products that offer natural sunscreen protection. Crops vulnerable to ultraviolet rays could also be genetically modified to express the molecules and achieve better protection from solar radiation.
The scientists conducting research on Antarctic plants grown under controlled conditions discovered that the hair grass (Deschampsia antarctica) plant and the pearlwort plant (Colobanthus quitensis) could withstand high levels of ultraviolet radiation.
The British Antarctic Survey informs that these are the only two species of flowering plants that grow in the frozen continent of Antarctica. Although the plants mainly grow around the more temperate edges of Antarctica, global warming-induced climate change has increased the range of these species.
Project leader Gustavo Zuniga informed that the identified molecules act as solar filters and prevent damage by radiation. The University of Santiago is now seeking commercial partners to develop spin-off products from the research.
Natural sunscreens and creams incorporating the protective molecules can be developed to shield the human skin from the harmful solar rays. Crops that are less tolerant to solar radiation can also be designed to respond better using the genetic information obtained from the research.
With decreasing levels of stratospheric ozone, the amount of ultraviolet radiation reaching the Earth’s surface has increased markedly over the past few decades. The protective molecules discovered in the Antarctic plants thus hold great promise and potential for protecting our skin and our crop plants against the damaging rays of the sun.
- By Oishimaya Sen Nag