Although the focus of our project has been creating a probiotic that expresses the mycosporine like amino acid (MAA) shinorine, we recognise that due to the relatively narrow absorbance of shinorine, this would not be a suitable replacement for the current sunscreens on the market. Our shinorine expressing bacteria are a proof of concept rather than the end product.
The team has explored a novel frontier in UV protection using a designed bacterial gene network guided by surveying and feedback from research. How would Shinescreen materialise beyond the silicon? We envisioned four stages to Shinescreen’s implementation. (1) After genetic transformation and testing, the transgenic strain would undergo incubation reminiscent of other probiotic cultures for Bifidus. (2) Following incubation to allow time for the culture to accumulate intracellular shinorine, the culture would be packaged with a supporting matrix containing a starting medium of glucose (primary feedstock to continued metabolism and a feedstock into the thanogen) and stored under cool conditions. (3) The product is applied to the skin’s surface, forming a bioactive layer of shinorine-containing and continually producing bacteria. Bacteria would continue to divide over the time that conditions remain permissive (UV and glucose availability), (4) the user leaves the sun or the length of time the sunscreen remains viable for expires, inducing the thanogen to eliminate any residual bacteria.
Recent research into coral health and biodiversity of the tropical ecosystem suggests as core a role of the sunscreen matrix – the oils and emulsifying agents which cohere and admix different additives of varying solubilities – as the organic and inorganic UV filters themselves. Lacking laboratory space, we tested the alternative hypothesis that paraffin oil, a mineral oil used in certain sunscreens impacts the health of zooxanthellate algae, a vast collection of paraphyletic symbionts which serve as indicators of coral growth. Three different conditions were tested: paraffin oil, vegetable oil and aloe vera gel; this was in consideration of alternative oil substrates that would show no long-lasting effects on coral ecosystems.
The results from the analysis were inconclusive; the results from the three conditions at two classes – low and high concentration – did not differ statistically from the control. Conversely, it could be the case that the examined agents lack any ecotoxicicity, justifying their use in a future Shinescreen. Of course, all stipulations must be confirmed in phase-II by more rigorous testing.
We envision our end product to be a bacterium that expresses a mixture of different MAAs with different absorbances, therefore offering broad UV protection. We explored the role of synthetic biology in skincare through a workshop we ran at the global meet-up organised by a group of Parisian iGEM teams. In the workshop we put forward three hypothetical probiotics that could be created using synthetic biology. These ranged from therapeutic applications (the treatment of eczema) to purely cosmetic (anti-aging treatment). The topics brought up by the participants highlighted the need for a focus on the biosafety of our system and the design of a robust killswitch. In theory, after development of our probiotic sunscreen, we could use the double plasmid killswitch design but incorporate different enzymes and therefore express different beneficial compounds, such as antioxidants or therapeutics. Skincare is an industry in which there is a lot of potential for synthetic biology.