“Synthetic biology offers new potential for personal care, but pragmatism is required,” says Sagentia Innovation

R&D consultancy Sagentia Innovation says a pragmatic approach will be critical to the development of ‘cleaner’ and more functional personal care ingredients and products based on synthetic biology (SynBio) techniques.

SynBio is increasingly seen as one of the leading trends for the personal care, speciality chemicals, food, consumer health, biopharma, and diagnostic industries. This diverse branch of science encompasses various technologies, from genetic and metabolic engineering to machine learning/AI and biotech manufacturing. It offers new ways to meet demands for advanced product functionality, enhanced safety, animal welfare, sustainability credentials, and more.

In a personal care context, SynBio can be used to produce functional active ingredients with superior characteristics and improved performance, as well as excipients, carriers, colourants, flavours, and fragrances. Secondary plant and animal metabolites can be produced through processes such as fermentation and cell culture, and this may reduce the industry’s reliance on ingredients regarded as unsustainable or unethical.

Experts at Sagentia Innovation acknowledge that advancements in SynBio technologies offer exciting possibilities. However, they advocate a commercially aware approach to R&D strategies exploring their potential. Tatiana Sergeenko PhD, Principal Consultant, co-authored a paper considering how SynBio techniques might be harnessed in the personal care sector. She suggests taking time to fully assess the latest technical developments as well as potential benefits and barriers associated with their use.

“With consumers demanding high-quality, functional, ethical, and sustainable products, it would be easy for manufacturers to pin their hopes on the rise of SynBio techniques,” Dr Sergeenko explains. “However, major technical challenges still need to be addressed, especially in relation to versatility and scalability. It can also be challenging to fully integrate and streamline individual processes into automated SynBio workflows. These issues are not insurmountable, but they do require attention and investment in supporting technologies.”

Dr Sergeenko also cautions manufacturers not to make assumptions about the sustainability credentials of ingredients produced using SynBio techniques.

“Direct and consequential impacts on sustainability must be considered. It can’t simply be assumed that ingredients produced using bio-techniques are more sustainable than their counterparts. For instance, microorganismal fermentation which uses media based on plant sugars may rely on resource-intensive agriculture. Manufacturers should expect any sustainability claims to receive heavy scrutiny.”

On balance, Dr Sergeenko believes personal care companies can feel ‘cautiously optimistic’ about the potential of SynBio. It’s already being used in the production of small-volume functional ingredients and fragrances, such as squalene and manool. In the near term, this is likely to extend to high-volume ingredients such as carriers, surfactants, and excipients. She also expects some areas of SynBio to unlock new developments in sensing and diagnostics which will enable more sophisticated personalisation, albeit as a premium proposition.

The full paper, Is synthetic biology the answer to personal care’s prayers, is available free of charge.


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