Team:St Andrews/Partnership

Shinescreen: A Novel,Entirely Reef-Safe Probiotic Sunscreen.



Timeline of our Partnership

Image: Partnership Timeline (St Andrews - Manchester)

Initial meeting at UK iGEM meetup:

  • Saw goals aligned closely in terms of product and human practices – both want to protect coral reefs from sunscreen damage.

2nd of July – Then individual meeting, talking about general collab – main idea for collab was stakeholder interviews.

10th of July – talk more about possible stakeholder interviews to collab on:

  • Manchester will arrange a meeting with a Dermatologist (include St Andrews);
  • St Andrews will include Manchester in meeting Dr. Hennige + sent notes from meeting with Dr. Allison;
  • Will contact natural sunscreen companies together.

11th of July – meet to draft email to sunscreen companies, search sunscreen companies and find possible connections within our team.

15th of July – Select who contacts which stakeholder (trying to contact as many as possible), perfect email even more. Also discussed what questions we wanted to ask Dr. Hennige and Dr. Tagliati.

16th of July – Both teams met with Dr. Hennige and Tagliati (organised by St Andrews), both teams asked questions that were relevant to other team as well.

28th of July – Manchester organised a workshop with Paul Misselbrook, a patent lawyer from Mewbrun Ellis. Both teams gained new insights about the patenting process.

28th of July – The two teams met to talk about upcoming stakeholder meetings.

19th of August – The two teams met to discuss what to ask Louisa Laing (organised by St Andrews), then interviewed her together.

4th of September – Met to talk about our partnership, future areas to collaborate. Decided to on our sunscreen surveys, analyse the data together.

15th of September – both teams met with a Professor in Dermatology (organised by Manchester).

19th of September – Manchester mentored St Andrews on conducting market research and offered insights on the sunscreen market.

6th of October – St. Andrews mentored the Manchester team on how to perform statistical analysis of survey data.

13th of October – The two teams met to discuss the sharing of survey data and what the benefit of this collaborative approach would be. The mutual sharing of data would help both teams to strengthen and evidence themes found in their human practice work that they did not get to test directly in their survey.

The partnership

During the first UK Meet-up, organised by the St Andrews team, we discovered that the Manchester iGEM team were working on a very similar project to our own probiotic sunscreen. Their idea was different in the fact that they planned to genetically engineer E. coli to produce a novel UV-protective compound found in mucus secretion of the hippopotamus body. The compound would then be isolated and used in an entirely sustainable sunscreen. While we were also planning to produce a sustainable sunscreen, the UV-protective molecule in ‘Shinescreen’ would be synthesised directly on human skin than isolated from cells in the lab.

Despite the different approaches, we shared the common goal of preserving marine life, with a focus on reducing the rate of coral bleaching, which certain chemicals in conventional sunscreen are suspected to increase. In an entrepreneurial aspect, both teams were already thinking in the same direction. During the individual meetings, following the UK meet-up, we agreed that by collaboration each team could achieve a more in-depth and reliable insight of the sunscreen market, as well. Together, we made a plan of the common future activities and the responsibilities of each team, including reaching stakeholders, sharing knowledge on market research and statistical analysis, sharing survey data for the opinion about GMO and sunscreen use. This resulted in over 10+ meetings over the course of 4 months. The partnership with Manchester shaped our project, especially influencing our entrepreneurship, and we believe both teams benefited in lots of different ways. Read Manchester’s review of our partnership here.

Stakeholder Interviews

The first stakeholders meeting we conducted was with Dr Sebastian Hennige and Dr Alice Tagliati, to which we invited Manchester along. Since their research was focused on corals both teams learned more about the current research in the field. The next joint meeting was with Paul Misselbrook and Francis Salisbury, patent lawyers et Mewburn Ellis, organised by Manchester. We received valuable advice on patenting, and the best way of doing this. In August both teams interviewed Louisa Lang from ‘People4ocean’ who gave us an insight into the reef-friendly sunscreen market, while the meeting with a Professor in Dermatology one month later made us aware of possible benefits of not having a kill switch in disorder photosensitivity treatment. Both teams really benefited from using our combined network to reach as many valuable stakeholders as possible, preparing questions for interviewees together, and gaining other perspectives in these stakeholder meetings.

The two teams interviewing Louisa Laing together:

Image: Interview with Louisa Laing (St Andrews - Manchester)


Both teams used their strengths to help the other teams. Manchester team led a Market Research workshop, where they educated us on how to conduct market research and we received a special certificate for this. We could learn plenty of important facts for the process and implemented them later. At the same time, the St Andrew team mentored Manchester on statistical analysis in the context of survey data analysis and gave them feedback on their entrepreneurial learning resource.


Lastly, by sharing the survey results each of the teams contributed to more reliable conclusions. Interpreting Manchester’s results allowed us to form a more holistic picture of the sunscreen market, and their interpretations of our results were also very valuable. More specifically, the results from Manchester survey enriched the information about GMO that we already collected through our own survey, Twitter Sentiment Analysis and SynBio Forum, while Manchester team was mainly interested in the data that we collected regarding the price that participants would pay for sunscreen and the importance of different factors when buying it.

We extensively analysed the results from Manchester’s survey, and Manchester also extensively analyses our survey. The wider analysis can be found here, as part of our sunscreen case study. Here we highlight some of our analysis of Manchester’s results which is most relevant to our project:

Image: Analysis of Manchester's Results

The overall number of analysed responses was 75. There was one question taken from the sunscreen use survey, while the rest were part of the synthetic biology survey.

To the question from sunscreen use survey nearly all of the participants regarded sunscreen as a health than as a beauty product. This implicated that reliable UV-protection is not only an advantage in terms of our product contributing to the decrease of UV-related diseases but also regarding its market potential.

The questions from synthetic biology survey were in the format shown below (1-10 grade scale). There was a tendency of people feeling more comfortable towards the use of GMO in a way which does not reach human directly. Therefore, most of the participants felt comfortable about using GMO for sustainable purposes such as eco-friendly sunscreen, biofuel and pollutants degradation. However, there was controversial opinion regarding the use of GMO in food and for treating diseases.

Similarly to the results of Q9 from our survey, the participants in Manchester survey were comfortable with using sunscreen, involving the use of GMO (as present on the skin in our case or as producing UV-filter in the lab and extracting it). When comparing only the questions about the use of eco-friendly sunscreen and conventional skin care products, the reef-safe sunscreen seems to be accepted better. It can be noticed that more of the participants (about 80%) ranked the former between 9-10, compared to the latter (about 40%), where the opinions were rather diverse. This finding was surprising since conventional cosmetics occupies a large part of the market and is widely used. At the same time, it showed that there is a potential demand for sustainable products.

On a scale of 1 (strongly uncomfortable) to 10 (completely comfortable) how comfortable are you with the following application?

Hainan Partnership

We were already considering Hainan as a potential location for conducting our sunscreen survey when Hainan iGEM team contacted us. They were also working on a project related to coral reefs and suggested that we could collaborate which we though was a great idea.

The Hainan team helped us recruit more participants to the survey and we had several online discussions about the problem of coral bleaching and our solutions. The discussions were beneficial to both teams in terms of project improvements and consideration of wider collaborations with other teams addressing the same issue. We shared our problem of not having access to the labs due to COVID-19 and were very excited to learn that the Hainan iGEM team would be able to do wetlab experiments. We asked them if they could assess the safety of the supplementary potential ingredients of ‘Shinescreen’ since we wanted to design entirely reef safe sunscreen and all of the ingredients mattered. Even though Hainan team had limited time in the lab, they were enthusiastic to do this experiment for us. Our team created the experimental protocol, taking into account the equipment available in Hainan lab and making the procedure similar to their own project. The Hainan team planned to test the effect of different substances, which were believed to be beneficial to zooxanthellae health. We suggested that they could do the same but test for potential negative effects of the ingredients we were thinking to incorporate in our sunscreen.

Unfortunately, Hainan team had even shorter time in the lab than we expected and the resulted data was insufficient to derive any certain conclusions. Based on the results shown in the table there was no negative effect observed in any of the samples and the substances tested were not suspected to be toxic to corals. However, further research is needed to confirm their safety.

Experimental Protocol:

Chemicals to test:

Aloe vera gel, vegetable oil (olive oil), mineral oil (Petrolatum/Baby oil)


Vegetable oil – low ~0.1% (m/m) - high ~2.5% (m/m)

Mineral oil – low ~0.05 % (m/m) - high ~2.5% (m/m)

Aloe vera gel – low ~0.1% (v/v) - high ~ ~2% (v/v)

*Where the ‘m’ is mass, so m/m = mass of the chemical / mass of the water in the container and ‘v’ percentage by volume

Organisms: Healthy zooxanthellae

Water Temperature: ~25°C

The aim of the experiment is to analyse the effect of the above substances in varying concentrations on healthy zooxanthellae by monitoring the photosynthesis efficiency. Based on the results we can infer if the chemicals have any effect on coral degradation. Quantifying the photosynthesis efficiency could be done using PAM Fluorometer. It would be preferred that the coral is kept at the expected temperature. The measurements should be taken at the same time each day.

We would require 7 experiments in total:

Aloe Vera in high concentration and in low concentration

Vegetable oil in high concentration and in low concentration

Mineral Oil in high concentration and in low concentration

A control experiment where none of the chemicals are added


Sample Fv/Fm Values
Day 0
Fv/Fm Values
Day 1
Fv/Fm Values
Day 2
Control Group 0.147 0.343 0.375
Mineral Oil-High 0.353 0.363 0.429
Mineral Oil-Low 0.257 0.255 0.364
Vegetable Oil-High 0.169 0.300 0.326
Vegetable Oil-Low 0.292 0.325 0.371
Aloe Vera Gel-High 0.268 0.306 0.364
Aloe Vera Gel-Low 0.324 0.333 0.397

Following the great assistance of the Hainan team, we shared the results of our survey. This information helped them enrich their understanding regarding the public awareness of human impact on the environment. In the process of long-term collaboration the St Andrews and the Hainan teams subsequently discussed various approaches for solving the problem of coral bleaching as well as different ways of popularising the issue among the general population.

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University of St Andrews

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