Synthetic Biology and Sustainable Cosmetics
By Zara Chung
Few are unfamiliar with cosmetics and there exists a multitude of different cosmetics brands, ranging from affordable to premium. As we scroll through social media, or even walk down any metropolitan city, we see influencers and celebrities advertising and sharing their favourite brands. With online and public image gaining importance, the market for cosmetics has grown alongside with a 15% growth in the prestige beauty market in 20221. Unfortunately, the cosmetics market has still much to work on in terms of sustainability. To improve sustainable practices in the cosmetics industry, most would immediately look at packaging. However, there is also another area we can work on for sustainability – product formulation. With increasing public knowledge of the harmful repercussions of synthetic chemicals on the human body and the environment, people are turning to more organic sources and natural ingredients. In 2022, Allied Market Research reported that out of 12,000 individuals surveyed globally, 64% demanded for more organic ingredients in skincare products2.
Unfortunately, while the use of organic and natural products may appear more environmentally-friendly, extraction of these natural products may in fact cause more damage to the earth. So how can we solve this problem of using more natural ingredients while overcoming the energy consumption and waste production through extraction? Enzyme engineering may just be the solution to this conundrum and Allozymes, a Singapore-based start-up and university spin-off has created solutions for this problem. Loh Chin Yi, product specialist in cosmetics at Allozymes explains “Traditionally, natural ingredients are obtained from extraction from plants, which are not sustainable due to the small amounts of active ingredients obtained from cutting down hectares of trees. At Allozymes, we use fermentation to produce active natural ingredients.”
Indeed, two popular ingredients used for cosmetics are Phytoene and Bisabolol. Phytoene is extracted from tomatoes and provides natural anti-oxidant and anti-aging benefits. Bisabolol is a natural compound found in Candeia trees and German chamomile, and carries moisturising and anti-inflammatory effects. Natural ingredients such as the two aforementioned are all produced in nature, meaning there are specific biochemical pathways involved in converting raw materials into these natural products. Unlike chemical synthesis, the use of enzymes ensures the purity of the final product with reduced unwanted side products being formed. But there remains the problem of cost and time involved in engineering these enzymes for greater efficiency. By making use of their proprietary microfluidics platform, Allozymes is able to screen a huge number of different engineered enzymes to identify the most efficient enzyme for the specific pathway. An added advantage of this droplet-based technology is the reduced consumption of disposables and waste compared to a conventional laboratory setting.
Apart from the production of natural ingredients for cosmetics, synthetic biology can be applied to a multitude of other industries, including engineering better enzymes for API manufacturing in the pharmaceutical industry, or even in agritech for more sustainable alternative food production.
As research continues to advance and progress, we are able to understand and duplicate many natural processes in laboratories, under controlled conditions. Companies like Allozymes further expedite this process from lab to market by screening and identifying more efficient enzymes for different biochemical pathways. Recently clinching a spot in the SOSV Climate Tech 100, Allozymes is looking to further expand their technology, and the applications of synthetic biology to different fields. Although optimisation of pathways for natural product synthesis will still require time and research, the possibilities for applications of synthetic biology continue to expand and we look forward to more positive changes brought about by biotech companies like Allozymes.
- BeautyMatter | US Prestige Beauty Sector Grew 15% in 2022. https://beautymatter.com/articles/us-prestige-beauty-sector-grew-15-in-2022?utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Fri%202%2F3%3A%20US%20Prestige%20Beauty%20Sector%20Grew%2015%25%20in%202022%20-%20Free%20%2801GR7NK4MSHRW76C76DATKC19D%29&_kx=EVvWgerm9q4S-OncMisvNshC99_wDF20SpTF2UrG4Xo%3D.UCfjfs.
- Size of the global skin care market 2012-2025 | Statista. https://www.statista.com/statistics/254612/global-skin-care-market-size/.