Scholar of the Year Discovers Sunscreen Compounds in Fish Mucus

University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa
Posted: Oct 28, 2002

Jill P. Zamzow, a graduate student in the Department of Zoology at the University of Hawai‛i at Mānoa, was named the ARCS (Achievement Rewards for College Scientists) Foundation Honolulu Chapter‘s "Scholar of the Year" this past summer. Zamzow was recognized by the organization for her research on the sunscreen compounds in the mucus of coral reef fishes.

Zamzow discovered that sunscreen compounds exist in the mucus of coral reef fishes in 1999 while observing the Hawaiian white-spotted toby under an ultraviolet-sensitive video camera. While conducting her experiments, Zamzow noticed that spots on the fish were not noticeable unless mucus on the fish was wiped off. Research and tests conducted as a result of this experience helped Zamzow conclude that mucus on the toby fish absorbs damaging UVB rays and acts like a sunscreen formula for the fish.

The sunscreen compounds found in the fish were comparable to, or better than, SPF 15 sunscreen for humans. Since this discovery, the compounds have been found in 84 percent of some 200 species of tropical fish from the Pacific. Currently, Zamzow is going one step further in her research as she attempts to answer the question "Does UV exposure, and the ability to sequester sunscreen in the mucus, affect the geographic distributions of fish species?"

"I‘m really honored and humbled that they (ARCS) picked me out of all the great grad students at UH," Zamzow said. "I‘ve always been inspired by my dissertation project. I find it really interesting and there‘s no shortage of neat questions to try and answer, but their support inspires me even further."

Zamzow earned her bachelor‘s degree in marine biology from the University of California at Santa Cruz and her master‘s degree in zoology at the University of Hawai‛i at Mānoa. In addition, she has also written four publications in peer reviewed journals and book chapter.

ARCS is a national volunteer women‘s organization formed in 1958. It is dedicated to helping bright graduate and undergraduate students by providing scholarships in natural science, medicine and engineering.