Break out the sunscreen: Sunburns damage your genetic code

Posted: July 12, 2012 at 10:12 am

That painful sunburn on your shoulder is actually a complex volley of genetically encoded counterattacks buried deep under your skin.

According to a study published in Medicine, the sun is scorching your RNA.

In some ways, it was a surprise, said Dr. Richard Gallo, chief of the dermatology division at the University of California San Diego. We know a sunburn will damage DNA. What we didnt suspect is that it is also damaging the RNA.

DNA stores genetic code; RNA transmits it.

The study found that ultraviolet UVB rays from the sun bore through the skin to fracture and tangle a specific type of RNA that does not make proteins. Sunburned cells release that non-coding micro-RNA, setting off an alarm in healthy surrounding cells that something weird and dangerous is going on.

That alarm turns into inflammation which turns into sunburn

We were interested in how the injury is recognized by our body, Gallo said on Monday. Those cells that are injured are dead. How can their neighbours detect that?

In fact, the inflammation is the skin trying to heal itself, releasing a cocktail of antibodies and anti-inflammatories that could be beneficial.

It may help us remove cells that might otherwise turn into skin cancer.

Scientists sequenced all of the RNA in human and mouse cells used in the study that were exposed to ultraviolet light to figure out which molecules reacted in which way to a dose of too much sun.

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Break out the sunscreen: Sunburns damage your genetic code

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