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Researchers say common water bacteria could be natural sunscreen

By Simon Pitman , 15-Sep-2010

An ancient fresh water bacteria called Cyanobacteria may hold the key to developing a new generation of bio-based sunscreens, says a team at Harvard Medical School.

Cyanobacteria has existed on earth for billions of years and derives its energy from sunlight in order to photosynthesize and regenerate.

During its evolution the blue-green algae, commonly found in fresh water lakes, developed a means of filtering out potentially damaging UV rays, as a means of preserving the DNA molecules that make up the plant.

Tapping into MAA activity

Scientists Emily Balskus and Richard Walsh, honed in on the algae’s method of protection, which has evolved to combat both UVA and UVB exposure by producing small amounts of small-molecule sunscreens called mycosporines and mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs) that absorb the harmful rays.

Balskus and Walsh have published the findings of their study in the most recent edition of the journal Science, which underlines how their research pinpointed the genes and enzymes involved in the biosynthesis of the sunscreen molecules.

The pair went on to identify a MAA biosynthetic gene cluster in a cyanobacterium and also discovered analogous pathways in other sequenced organisms, allowing them to characterize the four biosynthetic enzymes responsible for the process.

Similar properties to man-made sunscreens

The scientists say the extract has the petrochemical properties desirable in sunscreens, but that it remains to be seen if they will prove to be as popular as their man-made counterparts.

Cyanobacteria, is highly bio-available and contains a full spectrum of minerals, as well as chlorophyll, a number of B vitaimins, beta-cerotene, pro vitamin A, lipids, active enzymes, essential amino acids and nucleic acids, DHA and EPA fatty acids.

The MAA extract is currently used in an ingredient for use in anti-aging skin care applications that is manufactured by Swiss company Mibelle.

The extract was also used as a key ingredient in an eye gel launched by US-based Mod. Skin Labs back in 2007 that targeted puffiness and dark circles.

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