Digging into the Newest Plant Cell Breakthroughs
Science seems like a very artificial and synthetic thing, where compounds are manipulated in sterile spaces by people wearing white coats and latex gloves. But incredibly, the latest breakthrough in beautiful skin comes from the earth and sea itself, and from some of the garden's most deliriously sensual flowers.
Botanicals have been used in cosmetics for centuries. But today, utilizing plant stem cell technology, we are able to extract cells from plants and cultivate them in the laboratory, multiplying their potency by literally 1,000 times or more than that which is present in the naturally occurring molecule.
This bionic concentration, impossible in nature, allows the resulting product to deliver a power-dose of active ingredients to today's demanding consumer, thus bringing together the best of both worlds, botanical and lab-derived. And because the human skin is the largest repository of adult stem cells in the body, plant stem cells are understandably the most significant breakthrough in topical care for decades.
The Secret (Smart) Life of Plants
One of the more fascinating aspects of this emerging science is that it utilizes what might be called a cellular, strategic intelligence of plants. By this, I mean that every plant possesses defensive physical responses to protect itself and enhance its life-cycle and its chances of reproduction. This Darwinian imperative has enabled every current species on earth to persist, adapt, and thrive for literally billions of years.
Those species which did not possess this genetic resiliency are simply no longer with us. Some species in particular have developed especially advanced survival strategies which express themselves in physical terms. These plants are the best candidates for utilization in stem cell technologies, with truly astonishing implications. The cellular functions which the plant has developed over millennia to enhance its own survival now may be borrowed and adapted to enhance the survival of human cells, namely those found in the human skin. We now know that stem cell therapy stimulates the body's own stem cell reservoirs, coming as close as possible to discovering the mythical "Fountain of Youth" within the basal layer of our own epidermis.
Among the first advanced instances of borrowing "plant intelligence" for cosmetic use, involved an 18th century species of apple in Switzerland. In the days before refrigeration, growers had noted that this specific strain of apple demonstrated a remarkable resistance to spoilage. The self-preserving nature of Malus domesticus, suggesting exceptional cell-longevity, led to research which gave rise to early applications of plant stem cells, including those of Alpine Rose, Butterfly Bush, and Coneflower for cosmetic use. It is now a proven fact that the resiliency and resistance which enable this apple species to resist rot may be applied to human skin in the form of stem cell-based cosmeceuticals.
The most promising developments in plant stem cell research now focus upon three blossoming plants long-prized for their beauty and fragrance – Edelweiss, Lilac, and
Gardenia. Based in the Northern Italian center of Vicenza, Roberto Dal Toso, Scientific Director for The Institute for Biotechnological Research (IRB), sees this new generation of plant stem cell technology as a window into the future.
He comments, "Our current findings in the arena of plant stem cells, specifically with Edelweiss, Lilac, and Gardenia are precedent-setting in many ways. These botanicals represent everything that the consumer marketplace demands today: An extremely purified product which delivers powerful results. And it is also equally important to realize that this technology is eco-friendly and sustainable, much more so than the traditional growing and harvesting of vast fields of whole plants. Because the product is cultured in the lab from an extremely small sample of cells, which then are proliferated using a process that does not kill the mother-plant, we can protect even the rarest species while still deriving the benefits of its actives."
This is especially relevant in light of Dal Toso's invention of an innovative process for growing and extracting cell cultures for specific, new-generation antioxidants. Dal Toso holds the U.S. Patent for this process, and is a leader at the cutting edge of ingredient formulation technology.
In some cases, adaptation to harsh environments may play a major role in shaping the dynamic properties of the plant. For instance, the Lilac (Syringa Vulgaris) originated in mountainous terrain, and its capacity to withstand freezing temperatures now is deeply held in the plant's genetic memory. In fact, Lilac-fanciers will tell you that traditionally these plants require a hard freeze to blossom profusely, and that new hybrids had to be developed for more temperate climates.
I find it fascinating that the Lilac stem-cell contains high levels of a compound called verbascoside, which is a glycoside, or sugar-trapping molecules. Many state-of-the-art skin care products today focus upon the link between the production of sugars in the skin, known as glycation, and the formation of wrinkles.
There currently is no specific research exploring this aspect of the Lilac stem cell. However, the effect of verbascoside elsewhere is well-documented. By breaking the sugar-formation, verbascoside reduces the production of Advanced Glycation End products, or AGEs for short. The result is that existing wrinkles may soften, and new creases are slower to form. Is there a relationship between sugar-trapping and the Lilac's capacity to store carbohydrates, including sugars, as an overwintering survival skill? Though unproven, this seems possible.
Dal Toso comments, "There are many other properties that can be claimed for verbascoside, such as a very strong photoprotective action safeguarding collagen against UV, as well as other vital antioxidant effects. This compound also enhances tissue repair enhancement, which is crucial to the action of anti-aging formulas, and is effective in sebum regulation, which helps to clear, balance, and control acneic skin."
Like the Lilac, the mountain-dwelling Edelweiss (Leontopodium Alpinum) owes much of its resiliency to its climatic adaptation. According to Francesca Melandri, a colleague of Dal Toso at IRB, "Because Edelweiss grows in harsh climates, it is obliged to produce a number of active substances that help protect against the elements, such as UV rays."
High concentrations of leontopodic acids A and B, protective substances produced by the plant to defend itself against extremes in environment, have demonstrated strong antioxidant properties, as well as strong anti-collagenase and hyaluronidase activity; therefore helping to limit the degradation of collagen and hyaluronic acid in the skin.
The net result: Dramatic wrinkle reduction. Incidentally, Edelweiss is an example of an endangered plant which cannot and must not be harvested from the wild. The plant also does not respond well to cultivation, but the techniques used in stem cell technology allow science to utilize the plant in a sustainable and non-destructive manner.
The Gardenia, which is tropical in origin, owes its place in today's skin care spotlight to high levels of antioxidant ferulic acid, which stimulates the production of collagen and hyaluronic acid in the skin. This combined function supports the skin's infrastructure for improved contour and firmness, and enhances the skin's ability to maintain the lipid barrier for greater moisture retention.
Perhaps not coincidentally, the fruit of the Gardenia jasminoides has been used for centuries in what is now known as Traditional Chinese Medicine, or simply Oriental Medicine. These traditional herbal remedies revere the Gardenia fruit as an anti-inflammatory, used to ease edema, headache, hypertension, and other forms of inflammation. Even more intriguingly, the Gardenia now is being researched for its extremely high antioxidant properties as relevant to the treatment of brain chemistry, relating to memory loss, specifically Alzheimer's disease ( Source: MOLECULES AND CELLS, KSMCB, 2007; Choi, Kim, Heo, Hong, Cho, Kim, Kim, Lim, Jun, Kim, Shin/ Korea University, Seoul).
The suggestion in this research is that oxidization and inflammation, just as these factors destroy skin cells, also may be implicated in the damage of neurons which lead to memory loss. This is simply one example of the world of possibilities which is just beginning to unfold as we study botanical science, just like the petals of the flower itself.
The Blossoming of Plant Stem Cell Technology
Stem cells in plants are referred to as meristematic, meaning they are undifferentiated and not yet defined or restricted in their cellular form. In plants, meristematic cells allow for the continuous regeneration of trunk and root.
You might say that the undifferentiated cell is a chameleon. Because it carries the entire DNA gene expression of the host organism, it can "morph" or differentiate into other cell types, making it invaluable in any number of cosmetic applications.Meristematic or plant stem cells are generated by wounding the host plant. In response, the plant forms callus tissue, where normal, differentiated cells revert to de-differentiated cells and become the stem cells which then may be used in plant stem cell technology. In other words, the experience of being wounded "un-scripts" plant cells so that they become neutral in terms of their function. This capacity to return to a neutral, "blank slate" state is known as totipotency. Because plant stem cells contain extremely high concentrations of phenylpropanoids, active substances produced by the plant in response to injury or trauma to protect the newly formed cells, they similarly protect the stem cells and the newly formed cells when applied to the skin. This effect is further enhanced by the interaction of high percentages of polysaccharides, phytosterols, amino acids, and mineral salts; substances which work synergistically to allow dramatic self-repair of the skin when applied topically. This means that the stem cell can create proteins, carbohydrates, and lipids to help repair fine lines and wrinkles and maintain firmness and elasticity; making skin more moist, responsive, and youthful in texture and appearance.
How to Bring This Science to Your Customers
During the past few years, primarily in the context of heavily publicized political campaigns, "stem cell research" has made headlines. It is essential to address this potential misunderstanding when discussing the benefits of plant stem cell technology.
There is absolutely no relationship between the stem cell research involving human embryos, and plant stem cell technology. This distinction is essential for all clients to understand, to avoid any ethical, political, philosophical, or religious objections to this promising and earth-friendly technology.
A Few Points to Remember
Plant stem cells are from plants; not from human tissue of any kind. Plant stem cell research or harvesting is not detrimental to host plants or to the environment at large. In fact, plant stem cell research and product development actually preserves and protects endangered plants, and does less damage to the world ecosystem than traditional botanical cultivation in the following ways:
- Only the tiniest amount of tissue is taken from the host plant to initiate the wounding and replication process.
- Because this technology generates unlimited cells from one culture, the host plant need not be planted in any large numbers. This means negligible soil occupancy, meaning that available land may be used for food crops, etcetera.
- Because there is no mass-planting required for this technology, water use is minimal in the cultivation of host plants.
We love flowers for their beauty, their fragrance, and their metaphorical meaning to our lives: New beginnings, blossoming, fading. But perhaps the world yet to be discovered with a flower's bud is the vast potential for science and knowledge.
Sam Dhatt is a world-renowned, award-winning cosmeceutical chemist who serves as the CEO and President of the product line DermaQuest Skin Therapy and of Allure Labs, a product formulation company, both of Hayward, CA. During his 20-plus year career as a sought-after formulator, Dhatt has developed and manufactured skincare products for over 700 companies, including many of the best-known brands in the industry. Dhatt is a frequent expert-author of articles featured in many trade journals and skin care publications and speaks often on ingredients and formulation with the goal of increasing the knowledge and success of aestheticians.