Ceramides are important biomolecules required for formation and structural integrity of the skin's outermost protective layer, the stratum corneum.
The critical role of ceramides for skin barrier function has been acknowledged for many years, and ceramides have become prime cosmetic ingredients for topical application on the skin in order to protect and reinforce its natural barrier function.
In their research, published in the peer-reviewed journal Eukaryotic Cell, scientists from Evonik's Consumer Specialties business unit, together with colleagues from the Science-to-Business Center Biotechnology and collaboration partners from academia, determined the draft Wickerhamomyces ciferrii genome sequence.
The goal of the project, funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, was to bring new innovations and share new findings within the ceramide research field on a regular base.
As opposed to chemical synthesis, Evonik developed a patented biotechnological green production process based on the fermentation of a non-conventional yeast; Wickerhamomyces ciferrii, formerly known as Pichia ciferrii.
"This yeast produces high amounts of the ceramide precursor phytosphingosine, which is secreted into the growth medium, extracted and further converted into a range of ceramides marketed as valuable cosmetic ingredients," says the Germany-based company.
“The ceramide biosynthesis pathway is conserved from yeast to man. Therefore, Evonik's ceramides have the same stereochemical conformation as the ceramides in our skin,” says the study.
The next step for the researchers was to analyse the genome sequence of Wickerhamomyces ciferrii which will help to get valuable information for the general understanding of sphingolipid biosynthesis.
“This will likely pave the way for the development of tailor-made yeast strains with improved sphingolipid production capabilities,” adds Evonik.
Ceramides are complex molecules bearing several stereo-centers, and optimal efficacy as cosmetic ingredients requires skin-identical stereochemistry. Chemical synthesis of ceramides usually yields mixtures of different isomers, which are not suitable as cosmetic ingredients.