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New finding could lead to sunburn-healing drugs


July 27, 2011

A new understanding of the workings of a DNA-repairing enzyme could lead to medications that heal sunburns (Photo: Kelly Sue DeConnick)

A new understanding of the workings of a DNA-repairing enzyme could lead to medications that heal sunburns (Photo: Kelly Sue DeConnick)

While there may be medications that help soothe sunburnt skin, when it comes to healing that skin ... well, we pretty much have to just wait for our bodies to do that on their own. Recent research conducted at Ohio State University, however, suggests that an actual healing treatment for sunburn may be on the way. It all comes down to some new understandings about an enzyme named photolyase.

Plants and some animals have naturally-occurring photolyase in their systems, although humans and other mammals do not. When DNA molecules are exposed to too much ultraviolet radiation, their atoms can become over-excited, and accidentally bond in ways that result in molecular injuries known as dimers. A dimer is shaped like a ring and is attached to the side of the molecule, where it keeps the DNA from replicating properly. In organisms lucky enough to possess photolyase, the enzyme rips open the dimer in two places, restoring the DNA molecule to its unharmed state. Led by Prof. Dongping Zhong, an Ohio State team decided to take a closer look at the process, to see if it could be applied to a medication.

Using a high-speed strobing laser, they discovered that the two breaks occurred 90 trillionths-of-a-second apart from one another - it had previously been assumed that they occurred simultaneously. This is because the one electron that is ejected from the photolyase first causes a break in the chemical bond on the near side of the dimer, but then travels around its outer edge to cause the second break.

"The enzyme needs to inject an electron into damaged DNA - but how?" said Zhong. "There are two pathways. One is direct jump from the enzyme across the ring from one side to the other, which is a short distance. But instead the electron takes the scenic route. We found that along the way, there is another molecule that acts as a bridge to speed the electron flow, and in this way, the long route actually takes less time."

Now that Zhong and his Ohio State colleagues better understand the DNA-repairing process, they are hoping that synthetic photolyase could be produced, and incorporated into drugs or lotions for use on human sunburn victims.

The research was recently published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

About the Author
Ben Coxworth An experienced freelance writer, videographer and television producer, Ben's interest in all forms of innovation is particularly fanatical when it comes to human-powered transportation, film-making gear, environmentally-friendly technologies and anything that's designed to go underwater. He lives in Edmonton, Alberta, where he spends a lot of time going over the handlebars of his mountain bike, hanging out in off-leash parks, and wishing the Pacific Ocean wasn't so far away. All articles by Ben Coxworth

Helloooo? Ever heard of naturally available, no after effects Aloe Vera?

Ricardo Hernandez

Aloe Vera only soothes sunburn - it doesn\'t heal it.

Keith Reeder

Not all dimers are shaped like rings, It just means a chemical structure or macromolecule that exists as two subunits, in this case it forms a ring structure


Would this be at all applicable to burns?

Jacob William

This treatment would appear to also stop the affects of sun caused cancer of the skin

Darrin Goodman

Dr. Staphanie Senerr from MIT published in \"Wise Tradition\" of the Weston A. Price Foundation an article \"Could sulfur deficiency be a contributing factor is obesity, heart disease, Alzheimer\'s, chronic fatigue and RADIATION EXPOSURE. What do you think Sunlight is? Therefore we have the good doctors explanation of why our Study Members don\'t burn but if staked out can repair the damage by adding Organic Sulfur, a crystal food to your diet. Our skins is formed and grows from within, anything from without fails to understand the cellular matrix of biology of the skin of man. It is the same of all of our cells. Got Sulfur/ Those who love their Tattoos more than life should not take organic sulfur.

Director Cellular Matrix Study Body Human Project est. 1999

Patrick McGean

@Jake, I believe it only works on cells damaged by UV.

Knowledge Thirsty

Dr. Seneff's reference is missing but we rejoiced when we read her papers on sulfur, our area of interest in humans for the last 13 years. What we have found in reference to Dr. Seneff's article and 7 at pub med which state sulfur can protect and repair the damage of radiation exposure, what is a sun burn? None of our red heads sunburn when sulfur is ingested. Its biology. Got sulfur?

Patrick McGean
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