Development of a photoprotector based on microorganisms


Microorganisms can adapt to practically any environment, even those exposed to extreme conditions. There are bacteria that inhabit hydrothermal vents, desert areas, and even the surface of solar panels. To survive in these environments, they develop different resistance mechanisms that can sometimes be harnessed for human use.


Microorganisms exposed to extreme conditions, such as high doses of radiation and temperature, accumulate carotenoids, pigments that protect organisms from sunlight. For this reason, these microorganisms can be used to produce new photoprotective agents.




Common sunscreens have several problems related to toxicity upon skin absorption and environmental toxicity when dispersed in continental and marine waters. According to consumer organizations, some of the ultraviolet filters in creams have negative effects, either because they are not easily biodegradable and accumulate in the environment or because of their toxicity to marine life.


Some of the most common chemical filters are: Octocrylene (toxic to aquatic life and poorly biodegradable, also questioned for its endocrine-disrupting effects, meaning its potential effects on the hormonal system); Homosalate (toxic to the aquatic environment, fish, algae, and corals, poorly degradable and bioaccumulative, recently also restricted due to its potential as an endocrine disruptor); Butyl Methoxydibenzoylmethane (also known as avobenzone, a non-biodegradable filter); and others already restricted in some countries to protect the environment, such as Octinoxate (ethylhexyl methoxycinnamate) or oxybenzone (benzophenone-3).




As an alternative solution to the currently predominant chemical and physical filters, DARWIN proposes an innovative solution based on microorganisms originating from high-insolation areas like deserts, which will be used as sunscreens due to their richness in carotenoids.


Completion Year: 2022




DARWIN’s project to develop a new sunscreen based on bacterial carotenoids was awarded the Celebrate Innovation prize in the photobiology category by Cantabria Labs. With this project, DARWIN is committed to an innovative line of research and development: the establishment of microorganism-based preparations that can be used as topical sunscreens.


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