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DNA Damage

Environmental ultraviolet radiation has positive effects (secret communication) as well as negative consequences (DNA damage). What are the protection mechanisms preventing DNA damage?

Ultraviolet radiation (UVR) is known to damage the DNA of any exposed organisms, especially in the tropics where levels of UVR are among the highest on Earth. Protection from this radiation is therefore vital. Three protection mechanisms are under investigation: 1) Fish secrete chemical compounds (Mycosporine-like Amino Acids, MAAs) into their mucus that act as natural sunscreens. 2) Internal repair mechanisms specifically target UVR-induced DNA damage. 3) Behavioural avoidance is possible if deleterious levels of UV radiation can be detected. The degree of protection fish receive from each mechanism, the net damage under current UV exposure levels as well as whether fish are able to up-regulate their defences are unknown and need to be answered in times of a changing climate. Of particular interest to our lab is how fish, which use UV for communication and thus have reduced natural sunscreens in their mucus (UV-absorbing sunscreens would render UV-reflective patterns invisible) survive in an environment rich in damaging UV.

graph graph
This graph shows DNA damage (64-PP and CPD lesions) detected in the skin of a settlement stage reef fish and UV radiation over the course of a day. This graph shows DNA damage (64-PP and CPD lesions) detected in the skin of a settlement stage reef fish and UV radiation over the course of a day.

fish and coral
This is the subject of our study on the effects of UV exposure on reef fish larvae – a recently settled Pomacentrus amboinensis.


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2016 Siebeck Visual Neuroethology Lab
Web design: Diana Kleine – Photos: Uli Siebeck, Maxi Eckes