Photoreceptor protein found in worms can effectively detect light on the visible spectrum, even more, better than human eyes. Scientists found this can be developed into sunscreens that can protect us from skin cancer.
Just because of we, humans, have eyes does not mean those that do not are missing out. In fact, roundworms are found to be so much more than sensitive to light than humans even though they do not have eyes.
Discovery of Photoreceptors in Nematodes
Nematodes are a diverse animal phylum that is the definition of small but terrible. Despite their mostly microscopic size, they can survive in almost all habitats – from marine, freshwater to soil dwellings.
These roundworms continue to fascinate as they are known deeper. In 2008, nematodes are observed by researchers of avoiding light. Because they do not have eyes, it irked their interest.
The how and why behind this bizarre discovery is found in a new study published in journal Cell. Findings showed roundworms have a one-of-a-kind light-sensitive protein, which is also called photoreceptors, that is unique from other animals.
Previously, the only photoreceptors found in animals are cryptochrome, flavoproteins with blue light sensitivity, and opsin, light-sensitive proteins in the retina. The recently discovered photoreceptor protein, called LITE-1, is entirely different as it is in the taste receptor family.
Tests showed it can detect and take in ultraviolet light. Moreover, it can distinguish light in the visible spectrum 10 to 100 times better than humans.
Revolutionary Sun Protection Application
Skin cancer, the most common type of cancer, has already killed three times more people than all others combined during the past three decades. One out of every five Americans develops the disease throughout their life. And in every minute, one person dies from melanoma skin cancer.
Ninety percent of skin cancer is caused by too much exposure to the sun’s ultraviolet radiation. With climate change, the thinning of the ozone layer also makes it even more critical.
Since being exposed to the Sun is something that is part of our everyday lives, having a protection from it is highly essential. Dermatologists always reiterate and underscore the importance of always using sun creams.
The study, meanwhile, opened an avenue of upgrading conventional sunblocks with the light-sensitive protein. Knowing that the LITE-1 can absorb both UVA (rays that penetrate deep into the dermis) and UVB (rays that burn the skin’s superficial layers) light, more light is expected to be captured by the photoreceptor protein.