Microbe-Made Sunscreen May Be Coming Soon
With skin cancer diagnoses on the rise, the world needs better sunscreens. Current options include mineral-based physical UV blockers, such as zinc oxide and titanium dioxide, and a slew of organic chemicals, such as oxybenzone, and octinoxate, which may act like endocrine disruptors in the body. Available sunscreen formulations have their drawbacks, and at present, few products are capable of blocking long-wavelength UV rays, which are suspected of penetrating deep beneath the skin to trigger the deadliest form of skin cancer, melanoma.
But, in looking to nature, scientists say they’ve found a new alternative: a pigment molecule called sarcinaxanthin. They discovered the molecule in tiny bacteria living in Trondheim Fjord, Norway. The bacteria evidently produce the chemical to serve as natural protection against UV radiation. Scientists discovered the molecule through “bioprospecting;” a branch of science that studies living creatures in their natural environments in the hopes of discovering useful compounds that may be harnessed for human benefit.
Sarcinaxanthin evidently fits the bill. It absorbs radiation at the precise wavelength of interest. Investigators hope to produce the chemical on an industrial scale, in bioreactors, which use genetically-engineered, cultured bacteria to produce a desirable substance in large amounts. Cosmetics manufacturers have expressed keen interest in the new ingredient, but don’t look for it on shelves just yet. It may be years before technical problems related to mass production are solved.
SINTEF (2013, August 6). Super sunscreen from fjord bacteria. ScienceDaily. Retrieved August 6, 2013, from http://www.sciencedaily.com /releases/2013/08/130806091556.htm