UF researchers discovered a faster way to obtain an environmentally friendly sunscreen ingredient to replace others that may damage marine life.
Yousong Ding, a UF medicinal chemistry assistant professor, said he and five UF researchers focused on cutting down the time it takes to produce shinorine, an eco-friendly ingredient used in sunscreens. The ingredient is a non-toxic and biodegradable amino acid.
“We hope to provide a more cost-effective ‘green’ sunscreen to customers,” the 38-year-old researcher said.
The research is based on the production of shinorine in the wild, which is found in red algae, Ding said.
Red algae is common in tidal zones in the ocean and grows off the coast of Florida, Ding said. It can take about a year for the red algae to produce shinorine that can be harvested, which is too long to be used commercially.
Shinorine is produced by cyanobacteria, a photosynthetic blue-green bacteria, Ding said. Researchers can harvest it on a cellular level in a controlled environment.
For the study, they focused on genetically engineering the cyanobacteria to produce shinorine in as soon as 13 days, Ding said.
Ding said he has been conducting the research for about 3 ½ years. He plans to continue the research and is in the early stages of a related project.
Ding declined to say which environmentally harmful chemicals in sunscreen shinorine could replace.
Craig Downs, the executive director of Haereticus Environmental Laboratory in Clifford, Virginia, said he knows of some chemicals in sunscreen that damage the environment.
One of those chemicals is benzophenone-3, or oxybenzone, which is used in sunscreen to protect the skin by absorbing ultraviolet light, Downs said.
Downs said aquatic animals can absorb oxybenzone through their gills, stomach and skin. The chemical can disrupt the hormone levels in the organisms.
He said he recently heard about Ding’s research with shinorine and became interested in the study.
“I think any new ingredient that absorbs UV radiation and can be turned into a human-safe and ecologically safe SPF drug is fantastic, exciting and innovative,” he said.