Harnessing the power of soil microbes for the sustainable production of green chemicals

Harnessing the power of soil microbes for the sustainable production of green chemicals

The NUS Environmental Research Institute and L’Oréal Singapore will jointly develop a novel microbiome-based approach for sustainable phytochemicals production

The NUS Environmental Research Institute (NERI) and L'Oréal Singapore have joined forces to improve the plant yield and plant health of commercially important crops through greener and more environmentally-friendly methods. This new partnership was announced at L'Oréal’s inaugural Singapore Showcase event held on 19 April 2024.

The joint research initiative will build on NUS’ expertise to find new ways to boost soil health and increase plant yield without needing more land or relying on chemical fertilisers.

“The increasing demand for chemicals in various industries has led to environmental degradation and health hazards. In response, there has been a growing interest in green chemicals, which are sustainable and do not harm the environment or human health,” said Associate Professor Sanjay Swarup, Director of NERI.

He added, “Joining forces with L'Oréal gives us access to different skill sets and experience that complement our team. We hope that, by working together, we can expand our knowledge and ultimately find solutions that meet industry needs, and are beneficial to the planet.”

A 50 sqm joint grow zone and a 30-sqm precision climate chamber have been established in the NUS Agritech Centre for scientists to conduct research studies in a climate-controlled environment. The selected plant varieties are those that produce high-value phytochemicals which are used in the formulation of cosmetics and skincare products. “By reprogramming plant metabolism through targeted microbial approaches, we can achieve higher yields of desired phytochemicals in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner," said Assoc Prof Swarup.

“We believe nature is the future of beauty and are excited about this partnership with NUS to enhance the sustainable cultivation of ingredients and extract the best that nature has to offer. We look forward to this collaboration to reach our sustainability goals faster while offering our consumers safe and effective products. This is also a strong testimony of our confidence in Singapore as an ecosystem for disruptive innovation,” said Dr Tarun Chopra, Director of Advanced Research, L’Oréal Singapore Research & Innovation.

This collaboration between NERI and L'Oréal Singapore is expected to have significant implications for the cosmetics and personal care industry, as well as other sectors that rely on green chemicals.

Promising results from the joint research will be followed by field trials for potential deployment of these solutions commercially. 

Mr Brian Koh, Director of Ecosystem Development at NUS Enterprise which manages the NUS Agritech Centre, added “Our agritech centre with its state-of-the-art controlled-environment facilities and automation systems will allow researchers from L'Oréal Singapore and NUS to identify optimal growing conditions for high-value crops, thereby maximising yield and minimising resource use. We hope this will help pave the way for urban farms to become not just viable, but economically thriving contributors to our city's food security and sustainability."

Image: Assoc Prof Sanjay Swarup (right), Director of NUS Environmental Research Institute, and Dr Tarun Chopra (left), Director of Advanced Research, L’Oréal Singapore Research & Innovation, at the new grow zone in NUS Agritech Centre where scientists will study the use of beneficial soil microbes to increase the yields of commercially important crops in a climate-controlled environment. (Photo: L’Oréal Singapore)

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