Melanin's 'trick' for maintaining radioprotection studied

Aug 23, 2011

Sunbathers have long known that melanin in their skin cells provides protection from the damage caused by visible and ultraviolet light. More recent studies have shown that melanin, which is produced by multitudes of the planet's life forms, also gives some species protection from ionizing radiation. In certain microbes, in particular some organisms from near the former nuclear reactor facilities in Chernobyl, melanin has even been linked to increased growth in the presence of ionizing radiation.

Research at the U.S. Department of Energy's Savannah River National Laboratory, in collaboration with the Albert Einstein College of Medicine, has provided insights into the electrochemical mechanism that gives the complex polymer known as melanin its long-term radioprotective properties, with a goal of using that knowledge to develop materials that mimic those natural properties.

A recent article in the journal Bioelectrochemistry (Bioelectrochemistry 82 (2011) 69-73) relates how the researchers established that interacts with melanin to alter its oxidation-reduction potential, resulting in electric current production.

Radiation causes damage by stripping away electrons from its target. "Over time, as melanin is bombarded with radiation and electrons are knocked away, you would expect to see the melanin become oxidized, or bleached out, and lose its ability to provide protection," said Dr. Charles Turick, Science Fellow with SRNL, "but that's not what we're seeing. Instead, the melanin continuously restores itself."

The team's research took them one step closer to understanding that self-restoration mechanism. They demonstrated that melanin can receive electrons, countering the oxidizing effects of the gamma radiation. The work showed, for the first time, that constant exposure of melanin to results in electric current production.

Mimicking that ability would be useful, for example, in the space industry, where satellites and other equipment are exposed to high levels of radiation for long spans of time. "Looking at materials, a constantly gamma radiation-oxidized electrode consisting in part of would continuously accept electrons, thereby resulting in a current response," Turick said. "If we could understand how that works, we could keep that equipment working for a very long time."

Explore further: Structure of sodium channels different than previously believed

Provided by Savannah River National Laboratory

5 /5 (3 votes)
add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

What gives us sunburn protects crayfish against bacteria

Sep 24, 2007

The production of melanin gives us sunburns, but it also helps invertebrate animals to encapsulate attacking fungi and parasites. Uppsala University researchers, in collaboration with Korean and Thai colleagues, can now ...

Safer suntans through science

Sep 26, 2006

An organic compound that creates a realistic beachy glow while inducing a natural sun block effect in your skin may be just around the corner, as scientists at the University of Kentucky are testing a treatment that enhances ...

Novel nanoparticles prevent radiation damage (w/ Video)

Apr 26, 2010

Tiny, melanin-covered nanoparticles may protect bone marrow from the harmful effects of radiation therapy, according to scientists at Albert Einstein College of Medicine of Yeshiva University who successfully tested the strategy ...

Recommended for you

Breakthrough points to new drugs from nature

Apr 16, 2014

Researchers at Griffith University's Eskitis Institute have developed a new technique for discovering natural compounds which could form the basis of novel therapeutic drugs.

World's first successful visualisation of key coenzyme

Apr 16, 2014

Japanese researchers have successfully developed the world's first imaging method for visualising the behaviour of nicotine-adenine dinucleotide derivative (NAD(P)H), a key coenzyme, inside cells. This feat ...

User comments : 0

More news stories

NASA's space station Robonaut finally getting legs

Robonaut, the first out-of-this-world humanoid, is finally getting its space legs. For three years, Robonaut has had to manage from the waist up. This new pair of legs means the experimental robot—now stuck ...

Ex-Apple chief plans mobile phone for India

Former Apple chief executive John Sculley, whose marketing skills helped bring the personal computer to desktops worldwide, says he plans to launch a mobile phone in India to exploit its still largely untapped ...

Filipino tests negative for Middle East virus

A Filipino nurse who tested positive for the Middle East virus has been found free of infection in a subsequent examination after he returned home, Philippine health officials said Saturday.

Egypt archaeologists find ancient writer's tomb

Egypt's minister of antiquities says a team of Spanish archaeologists has discovered two tombs in the southern part of the country, one of them belonging to a writer and containing a trove of artifacts including reed pens ...