Author’s note: This manuscript was written during a time where, to the best of our knowledge, there are very few compounds in the cosmetic industry that are produced by synthetic biology (synbio). Like any major scientific advancement that leads to an exciting trend, balanced views should be employed when weighing advantages and limitations, opportunities and risks. We can merely follow and see how this fascinating technology will evolve and affect our future.
Globally affecting events such as the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine crisis have severely affected the supply chain of key industries including cosmetics. This presses product developers to seek creative ingredient solutions; especially those obtained in an easier way, at a higher purity, lower cost and higher yield, and in a more sustainable manner. Indeed, many cosmetic ingredients are either chemically synthesized and therefore require substrates and reagents as starting chemicals, or extracted or derived from plants or other natural resources and chemically modified and/or blended, which can change their properties and function. Many also are transported nationally and globally.
Nature-identical biochemistry can be an effective path to achieving health and homeostasis in cosmetics and personal care products. While synthetic chemistry has advanced greatly in recent decades, it is still limited in its ability to produce nature-identical compounds at high purity and significant yield. Various compounds come at a higher cost or contain impurities because few if any sustainable sources for them are found; some examples include complex lipids, plant-derived antioxidants, active peptides, complex vitamins and vitamin precursors.
Synthetic biology (synbio) chemistries encoded from genetic sequencing, on the other hand, are typically purer, despite the fact that many are often attached to other molecules. They also exhibit clear stereochemistry and therefore may exhibit precise targeting in cells or tissues. Synbio opens up a new paradigm for ingredient production, as the following discussion proposes.
In essence, synbio utilizes microorganisms as a factory to produce compounds. Using living organisms to create compounds is not new – this approach has been implemented by humans throughout history; take fermentation, for example, which has been used for generations. More recently, organisms also have been used to create recombinant insulin and biopolymers.1-3
What makes synbio different is its engineering aspect. As with all living things, microorganisms have DNA in their nucleus. This DNA encodes for nucleic acid sequences, proteins, peptides and such (enzymes) that allow for the production of lipids, proteins or other complex molecules.
- Jing, J., Chen, Y., Sheng, L. and Wu, M. (2018, Dec). Optimized production of insulin variant, a recombinant platelet aggregation inhibitor, by high cell-density fermentation of recombinant Escherichia coli. Available at https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pep.2018.07.001
- Sandow, J., Landgraf, W., Becker, R. and Seipke, G. (2015, Feb 20). Equivalent recombinant human insulin preparations and their place in therapy. Available at https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29632560/
- Koutinas, A.A., Vlysidis, A., ... Lin, C.S.K., et al. (2014). Valorization of industrial waste and by-product streams via fermentation for the production of chemicals and biopolymers. Available at https://pubs.rsc.org/en/content/articlelanding/2014/cs/c3cs60293a