on the Great Barrier Reef Hold Health Secrets
Queensland, Australia, February 6, 2002 (ENS) –
on the world's largest reef, tropical marine bacteria can adapt
to ultraviolet light in a way that may help scientists decode a
vital process of aging. The man who discovered
this phenomenon, Dr. Walt Dunlap, is a marine specialist who
also found that tropical corals produce their own sunscreen. Dr.
Dunlap at the Australian Institute of
Marine Science, in collaboration with Professor Yorihiro
Yamamoto at the University of
Tokyo, has now discovered an enzyme adaptation that may one day
enable humans to enjoy greater health in old age.
water corals (Photo courtesy Australian Institute of Marine
studying the effects of ultraviolet radiation on marine
organisms, researchers found that bacteria living in the surface
mucus of shallow water corals increase levels of the powerful
antioxidant form of coenzyme Q.
discovery is unique and holds promise for human health, because
scientists believe that aging and age related degenerative
diseases are progressed by our diminishing ability to maintain
adequate antioxidant levels of coenzyme Q, according
to Theresa Millard at the Australian Institute of Marine
the free radical theory of aging, coenzyme Q, available in
bottles without prescription on pharmacy shelves, is one of the
most potent antioxidants working to destroy free
These toxic by-products are created by cells as they burn
calories.On his latest trip to the nearby Great Barrier Reef
during the austral mid-summer month of January, Dr. Dunlap found
bacteria that increased the antioxidant activity of
coenzyme Q more than fivefold, 565 percent, under ultraviolet
results have confounded his expectation that the stress of
ultraviolet radiation would cause a decrease in the antioxidant
levels of coenzyme Q. Instead, Dr. Dunlap said,
bacteria cells are overcompensating for UV exposure, and show
dramatic increases in the active form of the antioxidant. These
findings were reported to the joint scientific meeting of the
Japan and Australasian Societies for Free Radical Research, held
in Sydney November 30 to December 4, 2001.
and Yamamoto propose the use of this adaptation in the
metabolism of marine bacteria as a model to probe cellular
regulation of the same function in humans.
Branching coral (Photo by Dr. Lyndon Devantier courtesy AIMS)
has established a close evolutionary link between bacteria and
mitochondria [the energy powerhouse of human cells],” said Dr.
Dunlap. “Therefore we propose utilizing this discovery to
explore common metabolic pathways of antioxidant defence for
human benefit,” he said. Dr. Dunlap is recognized as a world
leader in the field of marine ultraviolet photobiological
chemistry; his research spans the globe from tropical
coral reefs to the frozen oceans of Antarctica under the ozone
his explorations of the Great Barrier Reef, Dr. Dunlap
discovered the sunscreen creating capacity of reef building
corals that are exposed to high levels of potentially damaging
solar radiation. He found that many marine organisms
biosynthesize, or diet accumulate, UV-absorbing compounds -
sunscreens – for environmental light protection.
new class of sunscreens has been patented by the Australian
Institute of Marine Science, and commercial activities are being
negotiated with a Sydney based investor
group for Australian and international markets.
Dunlap's new coenzyme Q experiments may also eventually lead to
a commercial product.