Grooming and beauty are important issues in modern societies. You only need to turn on the TV to see a lot of commercials offering anti-aging treatments, make-ups in all colours and shapes and products designed to take care of the skin. The importance of cosmetics is currently overwhelming and, consequently, its market weight in economy is increasing year after year. European market of cosmetics alone has a strikingly value of €67000 million/year.
We need a lot of different substances to make cosmetics, but among them, vitamins are one of the most important ones. Since its discovering in the first decade of the 20th century, we know that vitamins are one of the most important nutrients for us, but modern times have risen a new role for these molecules. For example, vitamin A is an important ingredient for all the products involved in skin care and vitamin B is a key component of several hair care products. Therefore, industrial production of vitamins has become a major priority for the cosmetic companies.
But vitamin production has been challenging. Traditionally, they have been obtained by chemical synthesis, but this method shows a low yield ratio and a huge amount of waste. If we try to obtain vitamins from animal or vegetal sources, we would need a huge amount of tissue to get only a small quantity. Both methods are too expensive to be viable in industrial processes. Microorganisms are considered the answer to these problems. Some of them are naturally able to synthesize these substances and we can also use synthetic biology to fit the genes needed for vitamin production in the genome of a suitable microorganism.
Nothing is as easy as it may seem though. Using microorganisms as biofactories is a more sustainable method, but it also needs to be feasible. Even if they can synthesize vitamins, they do it in a very small amount that is insufficient for an industrial scale. This is why one of our partners, Biosyntia, has developed a technology to couple microbial growth to the production of the molecule of interest. This methodology would allow getting high production microbial strains whose vitamin yield is optimized. Check this interview with Biosyntia’s Research Scientist Carlos Acevedo to learn more.
Nevertheless, even if we select the most efficient microbes, there are a couple of limitations to overcome. Some of the intermediate compounds generated in the biosynthesis of vitamins can diffuse inside the microorganism and get out of reach. Also, the different enzymes involved have to be close to each other if we want the process to happen quickly. In Rafts4Biotech we believe that the lipid raft technology would solve these inconveniences. The lipid rafts are specific regions in the microbe membrane where proteins can be captured and isolated from the rest of the microorganism structures. This feature would allow to confine all the enzymes involved in vitamin production in the same cellular location. If they are close to each other, the reaction will become faster and it will be less likely that the intermediate compounds get lost. The goal of Raft4Biotech project is to implement lipid rafts into suitable microorganisms and eventually scale up the process in order to increase dramatically the effectiveness of industrial vitamin production.
Grooming and beauty products will keep being demanded by moderns societies, so cosmetic market has a bright future ahead. By applying these two technologies combined we want to make vitamin bioproduction not only feasible but profitable and thus, beauty and skin care products would be more affordable for everybody.