Cantabria Labs awards DARWIN for a photoprotector based on microorganisms exposed to high temperatures

Darwin Bioprospecting Excellence has received an award in the 1st edition of the Celebrate Innovation Awards, granted by the dermatological brand Cantabria Labs. The spin-off of the University of Valencia has been awarded in the category of “photobiology” for a new sunscreen based on combinations of pigments existing in extremophilic microorganisms.


Microorganisms have an extraordinary ability to adapt to almost any environment, even those exposed to extreme conditions. There are bacteria that inhabit hydrothermal vents, desert areas, and even the surface of solar panels. In order to survive in these environments, they develop different resistance mechanisms that, at times, can be exploited for human use.


Bacteria are able to survive solar radiation thanks, in part, to the accumulation of carotenoids, which are pigments that protect other organisms from sunlight. Thus, DARWIN’s project, a company located in the UV Science Park, aims to develop a new sunscreen based on bacterial carotenoids. This idea has been awarded by Cantabria Labs with the Celebrate Innovation prize in the “photobiology” category.


Kristie Tanner, Head of R&D Projects, states that “DARWIN was submitted to the photobiology category for the studies conducted in the company on carotenoids and pigments in microorganisms subject to high doses of radiation and temperature.” These microorganisms, exposed to the sun and other extreme conditions, develop natural mechanisms to survive. “We have seen that microorganisms, or more specifically the carotenoids and pigments they produce, can be adapted and thus used to produce new sunscreens,” she ensures.



Manuel Porcar, CEO of DARWIN, receiving the Celebrate Innovation award. Source: Cantabria Labs


Innovation and Sustainability


For Manuel Porcar, CEO of the biotechnological company, “the Cantabria Labs award has meant great recognition for DARWIN because we have been selected from a total of 130 companies participating in the competition. Additionally, it represents an investment in an innovative research and development line: the development of preparations based on microorganisms that can be used as topical sunscreens. Common sunscreens have several problems derived from their toxicity when absorbed through the skin and environmental toxicity when dispersed in continental and marine waters. To address these issues and provide an alternative solution to the chemical and physical filters currently present, we have proposed an innovative solution based on microorganisms native to high-insolation areas like deserts, which will be used, as they are rich in carotenoids, as sunscreens.


The project will be carried out by Alejandro Rodríguez, Head of Biosolutions at DARWIN, who affirms that “the versatility of microorganisms is almost as vast as their diversity. They have multiple applications beyond food products, from bioremediation to health, and the development of new materials. At Darwin Bioprospecting Excellence, we are developing vegan leather as an alternative to animal leather, it is a ‘skin’ produced by microorganisms. These products or materials derived from microorganisms are integrated into the circular economy, as their own nature makes them biodegradable and therefore much more environmentally friendly.”


Alejandro Rodríguez, in charge of developing the sunscreen, working on vegan leather. Source: DARWIN


A Development Resulting from Two Industrial Doctorates


The project proposed by Darwin Bioprospecting Excellence stems from various research conducted in the company, such as the article A round trip to the desert: In situ nanopore sequencing informs targeted bioprospecting, whose main authors are Adriel Latorre and Helena Gimeno, in which radiation and desiccation-resistant microorganisms were identified in the Tabernas desert (Almería), or Kristie Tanner’s doctoral thesis, Life under the sun: microbial ecology and applications of the solar panel microbiota, which studies microorganisms associated with the surfaces of solar panels.


“Any recognition of innovation is always a reason for joy for us, and in this case perhaps even more so, as it is work that has been done within the framework of two doctoral theses carried out at DARWIN, so we feel that recognition as something more personal because it is related to our work,” explains the company’s R&D manager.


The main qualities valued in the competition are innovation, sustainability, and the potential for development of the initiatives presented. Thus, the winning proposals in each category have received a cash prize and the opportunity to develop the project with the help of Cantabria Labs. “We are very excited to collaborate with Cantabria Labs in the development of this new sunscreen“, concludes Kristie Tanner.