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New microbial beauty products go beyond skin-deep

Microbes from around the world have been recruited to produce new, advanced products for cosmetics. From skin whiteners to protectors and anti-oxidants, an EU project has put them to the test.
New microbial beauty products go beyond skin-deep
Researchers with the MICROSMETICS project have discovered and evaluated novel natural products originating from global microbial biodiversity. “The first step was to create an accurate functional prediction model for all the known cosmetic applications,” explains Prof. Nikolas Fokialakis, project coordinator. “Additionally, homology models for specific cosmetic target receptors (including elastase and collagenase), were developed for which there are already in vitro tests.”

Thousands of microbial candidates from around the world

More than 40 000 microbial metabolites were screened using the model, a virtual screening procedure for the selected receptors and a toxicity profile filter. From this vast amount of data, the team selected 100 microorganisms that can produce the desired metabolites or their analogues.

The global candidates come from extreme locations in the world including Alaska and Antarctica to Hawaii. To maximise their potential, researchers cultivated them under different nutritional arrays to exploit all the chemical diversity available. After analysis of the top 100 most-bioactive extracts, 8 fungi and 12 actinomycetes were selected for further investigation.

The shortlisted candidates have properties that are extremely important in cosmetics - five had antioxidant activity, five were promising for skin whitening, eight showed skin protecting activity, one combined antioxidant with skin protecting activity and another had skin whitening and skin protecting activity.

The finalists for cosmetics

After the complete set of biological in vitro and cell-based experiments as well as cytotoxicity and physicochemical characterisation, the two most promising candidates were transferred for scale-up production in bioreactors. The finalists, a fungus for anti-ageing and an actinomycete with skin whitening activity.

The fungus strain isolated, Cercospora spp produced the anti-ageing compound fulvic acid. Widely known for its benefits, it is anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory and can mediate symptoms of contact dermatitis, eczema and psoriasis. Within the deepest layers of the skin, it is antioxidant and protects collagen and elastin cells for stronger, smoother skin.

Trichostatin A (TSA) from the actinomycete Streptomyces hygroscopicus is also a promising compound for skin-whitening. “Although it is known for its antifungal antibiotic activity and its biological activity as epigenetic modulator it has not yet been exploited for skin-whitening,” informs Prof. Fokialakis.

Towards use in cosmetics

The researchers are expecting more final results before going for production of the extracts at industrial levels and will protect any results with commercial value. The collaboration of the partners will continue beyond this project as they will investigate a new collection of endophytes from Spain for the discovery of novel cosmetic agents. First results have already been obtained and this data will be used for making new applications in international funding agencies.

Exploiting biodiversity to the full and harnessing emerging and state of the art technologies in the field of biotechnology, natural products chemistry and applied microbiology, the project is nearing the commercialisation of two products. Prof. Fokialakis sums up the considerable achievements of the project: “MICROSMETICS has built a successful model of long-lasting collaboration between industry and academia for sustainable exploitation of existing know-how and produced knowledge in the area of cosmeceuticals.”

Subjects

Life Sciences

Keywords

MICROSMETICS, skin, cosmetics, whitening, protecting
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