Norwegian researchers recently discovered a microorganism living in Trondheim Fjord that could be a key ingredient in the ultimate sunscreen. The bacteria, named Micrococcus luteus, can absorb long-wavelength UV radiation and provide protection against skin cancer and malignant melanomas. With the help of researchers at Norwegian organization SINTEF, Norwegian company Promar AS has taken out patents for both the manufacture and use of a light-filtering substance extracted from this bacterium in future sunscreens.
SINTEF’s scientists have been working with bioprospecting – the process of commercialization of new products based on biological resources – for years and have recently been collecting a variety of microorganisms from the water in Trondheim Fjord. All the organisms have light-absorbing pigments. During the same time the Norwegian company Promar AS has been working on the project of manufacturing a substance that has much higher filtering abilities than those currently used in sunscreen products. Promar AS commissioned researchers at SINTEF and NTNU to look for a pigment that has the ability to filter long-wavelength radiation. After experimenting with hundreds of microorganisms, researchers found Micrococcus luteus.
The bacteria is 1-2 micrometers wide and contains a particular carotenoid-pigment that absorbs sunlight at the desired wavelength. Harmful radiation is absorbed by the pigment in the sunscreen before it reaches the skin.
But the sunscreen may still be a long time off; in order to bring the product to market, some complex bioengineering will be required. Additionally, any large-scale commercialization of the sunscreen will entail finding a way to reduce the cost of production.
Photos by SINTEF / Gry Karin Stimo