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The challenge

Mimicking corals' natural sun protection

Biotechnology company Coral Sunscreen, studied the results of over 20 years of research into how shallow-water corals protect themselves from UV light.

Larissa Bright and CSIRO's Dr Mark York working with UV filters in the lab.

The company then approached us, as they wanted to find a way to convert this natural method of coping with exposure to the intensive UV rays from Queensland's sunshine, into a safe and effective sunscreen for human use.

Our response

Creating safe, stable UV filters

We spent two years adapting the coral's sunscreen code so that it can be safely used as an ingredient in human sunscreen.

The molecular make up of the coral's natural sunscreen filter is quite complex, but the real challenge for us was modifying it so that it was resistant to both UVA and UVB radiation in one molecule, creating unique filters that are clear in colour, virtually odourless and very stable.

The research was undertaken through a Department of Industry grant program, which places scientists into industry to assist Australian research and development projects.

[Larissa Bright, Company Director, appears on screen seated next to a table of products in front of a banner that reads: Larissa Bright Australia. The Pure and Natural Skincare Company, Australian Made, Certified Cruelty Free, Vegan Skincare, 100% Mineral Makeup, Body and Spa, Baby Care, Men’s Care, Aromatherapy]

Larissa Bright: Six years ago my research led me to the Australian Institute of Marine Science and the research scientists shared with me a natural phenomenon relating to the Australian corals on the Great Barrier Reef.

[Image changes to the camera panning over different types of coral underwater]

Over millions of years through a process of adaptation and evolution the Australian corals have developed their own natural sunscreen.

[Image has changed back to Larissa]

I analysed over 20-years of research data from the Institute and then I took it to the CSIRO.

[Image has changed to Larissa in a laboratory working with Dr York]

I had discussions with the CSIRO as to how we could bring this natural sunscreen into development for human use and how we could provide a sustainable supply of this sunscreen without harming or affecting our natural environment.

[Image has changed back to Larissa]

We’re excited, because what we’ve been able to do over two years of intensive scientific research and development with the CSIRO is to duplicate the actions of the Australian corals.

[Image changes back to Dr York in a laboratory and zooms in on a small monitor that the Scientists is typing numbers into]

For the first time we’ve been able to create a molecule that gives you both UVA and UVB coverage.

[Images has changed to Larissa and Dr York in front of a monitor with graphs on it in discussion]

[Image changes to Dr Mark York, CSIRO]

Dr York: So, what we’ve done, building on AIMS research, is to take this molecule, which was derived from the corals and engineer some structural changes which allow us to keep the sun screening mechanism of the corals but with increased ability and increased coverage of the UV spectrum.

[Image changes to a child and woman seated by water. The woman is applying sunscreen to the child]

Larissa Bright: For the consumer what this mean is in a sunscreen lotion you will no longer have to mix three or four different chemical filters to create a broad spectrum coverage for yourself.

[Image changes to a man playing stick with a dog in the water]

My hope is to bring this natural innovation from Australia, from our remarkable World Heritage Great Barrier Reef, a true coral sunscreen that’s been developed over millions of years in nature to the rest of the world.

[Image changes to an aerial shot of the Reef and then to underwater shots of fish and coral]

[Image has changed back to Larissa]

We can see this as being a new paradigm in the sun screening industry and hopefully our sunscreens will be sold globally within the next five years.[CSIRO logo appears © 2013 CSIRO]

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The results

A new wave of sunscreens

The breakthrough paves the way for a new generation of sunscreens which harness the same protective barriers developed by Australia's Great Barrier Reef corals over millions of years to survive in the harsh Australian sun.

The new UV filters are resistant to both UVA and UVB rays and are clear and colourless which means they can be used in any cream emulsion.

The broad spectrum coral sunscreen filters are expected to be available to consumers across the globe in coming years.

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