In a list that covers everything from an anti-malaria gene to bulletproof paper, “Discover” magazine has compiled its Top 100 Stories of 2008. Included in the list is an article about findings published with the help of the University of Delaware’s George Luther and UD alumnus Timothy Waite.
“Seaweed creates its own sunscreen,” which came in at No. 94, details research that determined why brown kelp (Laminaria) produces iodine. When the seaweed is stressed, it flushes large quantities of iodide as a powerful antioxidant out of its cells. The iodide combines with highly reactive oxygen in the water and air to produce molecular iodine, which humans often use as an antiseptic.
The findings reveal the element iodine's biological role as an inorganic antioxidant — the first to be described in a living system.
The research, published May 2008 in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, the scientific journal of the National Academy of Sciences in the U.S., was led by Frithjof Kupper from the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS). Luther, the Maxwell P. and Mildred H. Harrington Professor of Oceanography, and Waite were part of the research team.
Luther’s lab conducted a series of chemical analyses, including one confirming that iodide was actually being released into the water, in his lab at the UD College of Marine and Earth Studies in Lewes.
With Luther’s help, the scientists determined that brown kelp passively takes in iodide from seawater and releases it when needed to protect itself from exposure to threats like ozone when the tide is low. It’s that simplicity that Luther said likely helped influence the story’s pick as one of the year’s best.
“Here’s an organism that takes the iodide in and dumps it when it needs it,” he said. “It’s such a simple way to do business.”
This research was partially funded by the National Science Foundation and Sea Grant, which is administered through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
Other agencies from the United States and around the world that helped fund the project included the Natural Environment Research Council; the National Institutes of Health; the Center for Environmental Bioinorganic Chemistry; the National Science Foundation Environmental Molecular Science Institute; the SAMS Core Strategic Program; the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft; and the French national program Toxicologie Nucléaire Environnementale.
“Discover” reaches an audience of approximately 6.7 million readers each month. To see the magazine’s list of Top 100 stories, visit http://discovermagazine.com/columns/top-100-stories-of-2008.
For more about UD’s College of Marine and Earth Studies, visit www.ocean.udel.edu.