Synthetic biology revolutionizing cosmetics formulation

By Deanna Utroske

- Last updated on GMT

Synthetic biology revolutionizing cosmetics formulation

Related tags Natural fragrance ingredients Dna

Companies like Gen9 and 20n are building personal care and beauty ingredients with DNA synthesis, bacteria and software.

With enzymes borrowed from humans, mold, bacteria and more, scientists are engineering little biological workshops that manufacture personal care ingredients. 

Brewing DNA
Gen9 manufactures fragrance and flavour ingredients by injecting a carefully selected combination of enzymes into yeast; the subsequent reactions yield ingredient molecules, like vanillin. The company limits possible mistakes in the manufacturing process by means of an “error evaluation approach [that] uses the MutS enzyme to identify nucleotide bases that differ from the population’s consensus, and then repair the mismatches,”​ explains a Wired item​ about the biotech company.

Kevin Munnelly, CEO of Gen9 judges that “the construction of an engineered pathway to produce a high-value molecule such as vanillin is an important success story in the synthetic biology community,” ​according to Wired.

The fragrance industry is on board: “Gen9 customers are actively developing fragrances, cosmetics, and other spices like saffron,” ​noted Wired. Consumer demand for natural fragrance ingredients​ is strong, and DNA synthesis could be an economical shortcut for brands working to meet that demand.

Algorithms at work
20n re-engineers bacteria to manufacture chemical ingredients (including acetaminophen).

That 20n creates custom chemical with genetically engineered microbes isn’t particularly exceptional.  “While there are companies that license ways to create bacteria that produce specialty chemicals, the process of identifying how to create these microbes is tedious,” ​observed Kim-Mai Cutler in her TechCrunch article​ about the startup.

It’s the algorithms 20n employs to calculate the chemical possibilities that distinguishes this synthetic biology company from its competitors. Mixing biology and computer science, the company’s “data-mining technology can get to 100 times more chemicals than were previously thought possible,”​ Cutler stated.

Printed biology
New research in biofabrication makes printing algae possible​. Dr. Anja Lode and a team of researchers at the Dresden University of Technology recently published their finding, which demonstrate that “not only can animal tissue be printed, but so too can plant tissue, or perhaps even a combination of both animal and plant cells via a conculturization process,” ​explained   

In each of these cases and in many others to come, tech is reconfiguring the means and the scale by which cosmetic ingredients can be sourced.   

Related topics Formulation & Science

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