Scientists: UV radiation gives wild fish skin cancer

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LOS ANGELES — If you’re still skeptical that a tan can be dangerous, consider this: Scientists have found that wild fish are getting skin cancer from ultraviolet radiation.

Approximately 15 percent of coral trout in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef had cancerous lesions on their scales. In that regard, they resemble Australians who live on land — 2 in 3 people who live Down Under will be diagnosed with skin cancer before the age of 70, the highest rate in the world. It’s probably no coincidence that Australia is under the Earth’s biggest hole in the ozone layer.

Scientists from the Australian Institute of Marine Science were near the Great Barrier Reef conducting a survey of shark prey, predominantly coral trout. They kept seeing strange dark patches on the normally bright orange fish, and they turned to another research team from the University of Newcastle in England that was studying coral disease in the area.

The research team’s first guess was that the patches were caused by an infection, said Michael Sweet, a coral disease expert. “We can check for microbial pathogens quite easily. So we designed an experiment, screened for them, and couldn’t find anything,” Sweet said.

Researchers cut the fish tissue into slices and put them under a microscope. Then they compared them with samples from fish that had been given melanoma in a lab experiment. They looked nearly identical.

The findings were published online Wednesday by the journal PLoS One.

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