Nowadays, all countries and regions in the world tend to become a community sharing a communal future. Cosmopolitan vision and philanthropic heart are indispensable for younger generation to conduct projects. The seventeen sustainable development goals (SDGs) were derived and adopted by the United Nations (UN) in 2015, aimed to create a better and fairer world by 2030: ending poverty, urgently addressing climate change and ending inequalities.
The 17 goals gave us multiple perspective to develop our project, and we hope to contribute to these goals by solving the chemical sunscreen dilemma of coral reefs.
The ocean drives global systems that make the Earth habitable for humankind. Our rainwater, drinking water, weather, climate, coastlines, much of our food, and even the oxygen in the air we breathe, are all ultimately provided and regulated by the sea.
Below water, there is a splendid and significant ecosystem, coral reefs.
The global reefs have an area of about 284,300 square kilometres and are worth over $100 billion a year for products and resource services for humans. Also, coral has extremely important ecological value. Most marine organisms are difficult to survive in tropical water that lack nitrogen, phosphorus and other nutrients, known as "blue desert". Coral reefs are like an oasis in the desert, providing a shelter for many marine organisms Although coral reefs account for less than 0.1% of the total ocean area, they live potentially as high as 9 million species, more than 25% of marine life, and are the regions with the highest marine species diversity. So, definitely, the bleaching of coral reefs can lead to the extinction of large numbers of fish and marine organisms, thus leading to the collapse of marine ecosystems.
Low chemical sunscreen concentrations in seawater are enough to cause a range of coral diseases and coral bleaching. However, about 14,000 tons of sunscreen are washed out and deposited into the ocean, and about 40% of coastal reefs are mortally threatened by chemical sunscreen (Fig.1).
Fig.1 Hazardous Chemical Sunscreen Has Been Detection in Many Waters of the United States
Therefore, coral protection is imminent. Cutting off the source of chemical sunscreen is a more practical solution which can also effectively slow down the current trend of large coral bleaching.
Currently, there are a range of so-called marine friendly sunscreens consisting of plant-derived components, like flavonoid, ferulaic acid and so on. Compared with chemical UV absorbers, they are much safer and seems less harmful to coral reefs, however, they may not be marine-friendly as their announcement: Because they are not existing in the natural marine ecosystem so they may bring potential disaster to marine species.
That is the reason why we produce gadusol, a natural ultra-violet filter originated from zebrafish and various species of marine and coral-reef ecosystems by engineered Saccharomyces cerevisiae to produce a real marine-friendly sunscreen.
Because of that, our team was invited to participate in this year's COP15 Youth Biodiversity Scientific Exploration activities: a special session on synthetic biology, at the meeting we shared our project of marine biodiversity protection initiatives (Fig.2), in addition to various science education activities we have done this year, we hope that more people can realize the significance of marine biodiversity to humans and the Earth.
Fig.2 We Are Sharing Our Project
By doing this, we hope our bio-sunscreen can not only protect one of the largest marine ecosystems: Coral reef, but also protect all marine species. And further promote the final sustainable development goal of conservation and sustainable utilization of marine and marine resources (Meet Target 1&2 of Goal 14).
Worldwide consumption and production is one of the driving forces of the global economy, which rest on the use of the natural environment and resources in a way that continues to have destructive impacts on the planet. However, over the last century, economic and social progress has been accompanied by environmental degradation that is endangering our future development and our survival. Thus, it's significant to build sustainable consumption & production patterns.
· Responsible Consumption
Sunscreen products have a large annual market size of about $10 billion and over 85% current products are belonging to chemical sunscreens which may cause the mitochondrial dysfunction of coral reefs and then lead to coral blenching and death. However, sunscreen is also an important part of our daily lives protecting us from UV irradiation and related skin diseases.
To protect the marine environment and coral ecosystem without totally banning the use and consumption of chemical sunscreens like Hawaii and Palau considering the consumers' needs, we here developed a bio-sunscreen with functional core components from zebrafish. Our natural product was also found in many kinds of marine species so that it would like to be a more trustworthy component to be developed as a marine and coral friendly sunscreen product.
Fig.3 An Question Result From Our Preliminary Questionnaire: Nearly 90% Consumers Are Still Reluctant To Stop Using Sunscreen After They Knew The Harm Of Sunscreen
Thus, We aimed to produce environmentally-responsible products and urged our consumers to consume these products to take their social and environmental responsibility, and finally make them aware & develop the habit of lifestyles in harmony with nature (Meet the Target 8 of Goal 12). As a responsible manufacturer, we also did many activities to popularize related scientific knowledge to our targeted consumers and investors to promote our safe and innovative coral-friendly product.
· Responsible Production
Our product producing strain had a good utilization ability to use cheap and well-sourced carbon source, xylose. Xylan is widely distributed in plants and can be degraded to xylose. Wide type Saccharomyces cerevisiae don’t have the capability to use this cheap and well-sourced carbon source, but xylose could not only support our strain growth to a final OD600 around 20 but also increase our product yield after our engineering. (For details, you can click here to see the growth curve & HPLC result of production )
We aimed to realize the large-scale fermentation production of our metabolite Gadusol by using inedible xylose from wasted plants like straw as our carbon source (Meet the Target 2 of Goal 12) to change current traditional glucose-based fermentation method towards sustainable resource transformation and production.
As early as 2002, Health and Sustainable Development has already been discussed by World Summit on Sustainable Development in Johannesburg. It's further recognized that human beings are entitled to a healthy and productive life, in harmony with nature and further recognizes that the goals of sustainable development can only be achieved in the absence of a high prevalence of debilitating diseases, while obtaining health gains for the whole population requires poverty eradication.
Skin cancer is a common malignant tumor in dermatology, which mostly occurs in the site of light exposure. The most common types include cutaneous squamous cell carcinoma (SCC), cutaneous basal cell carcinoma (BCC) and cutaneous malignant melanoma (CM). The first two types of skin cancer are the main types of skin cancer. Take malignant melanoma as an example, its morbidity and mortality have gradually increased in recent decades. There are an average of 160000 new cases and 48000 deaths every year in the world. In light-skinned people, the incidence of malignant melanoma has increased at an annual rate of about 3% to 7% in recent years (Fig.4). In the report of the American Annual meeting of Oncology (ASCO), malignant melanoma has become one of the fastest growing malignant tumors. The etiology of malignant melanoma is generally multifaceted, among which long-term ultraviolet exposure or sun exposure is one of the important reasons.
Fig.4 Trend Of Average Annual Incidence Of Cutaneous Malignant Melanoma (Per 100,000 Population) By Age Group & Sex In England From 1981 To 2018. (a) Age 0-34 Years Old; (b) Age 35-64 Years Old; (c) Age 65+ Years Old; (d) All Ages Combined
Worryingly, in some low-latitude countries that have imposed bans on chemical sunscreen, residents there are facing the plight of not having sunscreen available because most sunscreens are banned because of their blacklisted ingredient. As a result, they are at high risk of UV exposure and further skin cancer.
Therefore, our eco-friendly sunscreen that containing gadusol as its functional ingredients can solve the contradiction between healthy needs and environmental protection to a great extent, and bring effective health solutions to these high-risk groups.
Innovation and technological progress are key to finding lasting solutions to both economic and environmental challenges.
China has the biggest market around the world and sunscreen products have a over 9 billion Yuan domestic market. However, the category of products is limited in China, which means that most products are similar and consumers only have limited choices. Most current so-called environmentally-friendly bio-sunscreens are using plant-derived components and there is no marine-vertebrate-derived ones. Our core component gadusol is derived from marine species which means a new product category is created in China. Consumers now are keen on cosmetics with natural products and our products will have a positive effect on the economy and product development in China.
For sunscreen products, the majority of them are chemical ones with negative effects on the marine environment and current so-called marine-friendly bio-sunscreens are not trustworthy enough. Our innovative bio-sunscreen component gadusol is derived from the native marine ecosystem which can make less pollution to the environment.
We are so proud that many investors in China are interested in our product when we took part in some business meetings. We hope our project can accelerate the innovation and development of cosmetics industry and raise the environmental protection awareness of cosmetics enterprises. (For more details, you can click here.)
Sustained and inclusive economic growth can drive progress, create decent jobs for all and improve living standards, However, due to various environmental problems as well as the outbreak of COVID-19, billions of lives has been disrupted and global economy is endangered.
For many island countries in the Pacific region, fishing and tourism that depends on coral reefs are mainstay industries that provide decent work and employment for residents. However, with the phenomenon of coral bleaching worsening, people from those areas facing unemployment and the loss of economic sources. Although through artificial cultivation and coral-transplant, the phenomenon can be temporarily alleviated, but if we want to provide sustainable jobs and economic growth to locals, we need a more feasible approach. The bio-sunscreen we produce is expected to replace the chemical sunscreen in the market in the future to maintain the normal ecological function of coral reefs and those industries rely on coral reefs, and further ensure the employment and stable income of local residents.
Besides, sunscreen industry is relatively stable while many other industries were greatly impacted during COVID-19 according to our investigation (Fig.5). Thus, when our bio-sunscreen enters the market, it will further provide fresh blood to the industry and attract more consumption, finally drive the further development of the sunscreen industry and provide stable jobs. In addition, we plan to set up our own start-up in the future, and we also hope to promote our products to the world to provide more jobs for more people in the world.
Fig.5 Sunscreen Sales Have Soared During the Epidemic
The SDGs can only be realized with strong global partnerships and cooperation. As an iGEM team, our resource and energy are limited, so we choose to cooperate with other institutions, including non-government organizations, other schools, research institutions and government sectors.
With a shared goal to protect the coral reefs, we cooperated with The Ocean Agency and Better Blue. To popularize related knowledge and our thoughts, we cooperated with Friends of Nature and some high schools. Besides, to improve our research project, we made experimental partnership with Guangxi University and Coral Reef Research Centre of China and we also consulted many professional researchers from Chinese Academy of Sciences. We even cooperate with some government staffs to make sure our project in compliance with related requirements.