BBSRC’s Most Promising Innovators of the Year, Professor Cathie Martin and Dr Eugenio Butelli from the John Innes Centre, have announced the launch of their new biotech company, Persephone Bio Ltd.
Named after the Greek goddess of vegetation, Persephone Bio Ltd will use biotechnology to manufacture sought-after bioactive ingredients for the cosmetics industry from tomatoes.
Natural plant compounds are widely used in make-up products and skin creams for their beneficial effects on the skin, but they can be expensive as ingredients because plants do not produce them in high levels.
Furthermore, to extract these natural ingredients, harsh and unnatural chemical treatments are often used, which may cause irritation, allergic reactions or otherwise put consumers off.
In the course of her award-winning research, Professor Martin has developed several varieties of fruits, including tomatoes and oranges, containing high levels of nutrients and useful plant products. The prize money that she and Dr Butelli received from BBSRC will allow them to take their research out of the lab and turn it into an economy-boosting commercial enterprise.
Professor Martin said: “Tomatoes grown for food contain small amounts of cosmetically useful products such as flavonols and isoflavones, so we have developed varieties that contain much higher levels of these and related compounds that absorb ultra-violet light and protect plants against damage from the sun. We’ve also created ‘chemical-free’ commercial-scale system to extract the ingredients directly from cold-pressed tomato juice.”
Tomato extracts are new to skincare products, but Professor Martin and Dr Butelli believe their naturally processed ingredients will be very attractive to the cosmetics industry. With further research it is also hoped that tomatoes could become natural factories for not only cosmetic ingredients, but also therapeutic ingredients to treat skin conditions or promote wound healing.
Persephone Bio is the first of two spin-out companies to occupy the new Norwich Research Park Centrum; a brand-new BBSRC-funded facility supporting the translation of publicly-funded scientific research into commercial applications.