Saturday 10 December 2016

How plants make their own sunscreen

Published 01/04/2011 | 10:57

Scientists identified the 'photoreceptor' in plants that recognises the presence of UV-B wavelengths in sunlight
Scientists identified the 'photoreceptor' in plants that recognises the presence of UV-B wavelengths in sunlight

Scientists have discovered how plants know when to make their own sunscreen to protect themselves from harmful solar rays.

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They have identified the "photoreceptor" in plants that recognises the presence of UV-B wavelengths in sunlight, stimulating the production of sunblock chemicals.

UV-B is the most powerful part of the daylight spectrum and is potentially damaging both to humans and plantlife.

University of Glasgow scientists have discovered how a protein, called UVR8, recognises UV-B light and then switches on changes in a plant's gene expression needed for it to produce its own sun block.

Gareth Jenkins, Professor of Plant Cell and Molecular Biology at the University of Glasgow and co-author on the paper, described the paper's findings as groundbreaking".

He said: "The search for this UV-B photoreceptor has been something of a holy grail for plant photobiologists.

"We have known for decades that plants can sense the presence of UV-B and that this stimulates the production of sunscreen chemicals that protect plants in sunlight, but we didn't know how plants were able to recognise the presence of UV-B. Now we do.

"We have managed to identify the photoreceptor that does this."

Plants need sunlight to harvest light energy and are therefore constantly exposed to UV-B. However, they rarely show signs of damage because they have evolved a way of protecting themselves from the sun's harmful rays by making their own sunscreen and depositing it in the outer tissues of leaves.

UVR8 is always present throughout a plant so it can respond immediately to sunlight.

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