December 19, 2011 Humans lack a key enzyme found in many animals and plants that reverses severe sun damage. For the first time, researchers have witnessed how this enzyme works at the atomic level to repair sun-damaged DNA. Scientists were able to observe the enzyme, called photolyase, inject a single electron and proton into an injured strand of DNA. These subatomic particles healed the damage in a fraction of a second. “[Researchers] synthesized DNA in the lab and exposed it to ultraviolet light, producing damage similar to that of sunburn, then added photolyase enzymes. Using ultrafast light pulses, they took a series of ‘snapshots’ to reveal how the enzyme repaired the DNA at the atomic level.” This is a fantastic example of the miracle of “life” itself – how compounds, such as enzymes, work on the energetic level to heal DNA damage, almost instantaneously! As described by Physorg, the photolyase enzyme captures photons from the visible light spectrum, which gives it sufficient amounts of energy to inject a single electron and a single proton into the damaged DNA strand. This sets off a complex series of chemical reactions that reorganizes and repairs that DNA, all within a few billionths of a second. “This study has revealed that photolyase breaks up those errant bonds in just the right spots to cause the atoms in the DNA to move back into their original positions. The bonds are then arranged in such a way that the electron and proton are automatically ejected out of the DNA helix and back into the photolyase, presumably so it could start the cycle over again and go on to heal other sites.” This discovery may have beneficial applications in preventive remedies or treatments for sunburn and skin cancer in the future. However, although humans are not equipped with this protective enzyme, your body IS designed to protect itself from this type of DNA damage, and you DO possess an ingenious mechanism that can protect you from skin cancer. It’s already well established that exposure to ultraviolet light (UV) can damage your skin and lead to skin cancer. However, more recent findings show that the recommendation to avoid direct sun exposure to prevent skin cancer is all backwards. How Sun Exposure Causes Skin Cancer It’s true that some skin cancer is caused by skin damage and subsequent DNA mutations, which can occur when you get sunburned. However, contrary to popular belief, appropriate sun exposure actually helps prevent the fatal type of skin cancer, melanoma, and there’s plenty of evidence to support this stance. In fact, research shows that your risk of melanoma decreases with greater sun exposure, and can be increased by sunscreens! In addition, melanoma patients with higher levels of sun exposure have been found to be prone to a less aggressive tumor type, and to live longer than other melanoma patients. Indoor workers are also more prone to developing melanoma, despite the fact that they receive three to nine times less solar UV exposure than outdoor workers. Statistics alone will tell you there is a serious flaw in the current recommendations to stay out of the sun to avoid skin cancer, as melanoma rates have increased while, at the same time, sun exposure and vitamin D levels in the general population has significantly decreased. Fortunately, despite the fact that we lack photolyase to repair sun damaged DNA, your body has a built-in feedback loop that can provide similar protection, but you need to know how to unlock this mechanism. The key? Vitamin D Dr. Larry Jaeger is the medical director of Advanced Dermatology of New York, PC and specializes in the area of Medical, Cosmetic and Surgical Dermatology.