Sun, Jan 06, 2019 - Page 2 News List

Failed tests find possible skin-whitening pigment

By Wu Po-hsuan and Jonathan Chin  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer and CNA

Tatung University biological engineering department head Will Chen holds up a test tube containing the red pigment prodigiosin in an undated photograph.

Photo provided by Tatung University

The red pigment prodigiosin could have cosmetic benefits, such as reducing dark spots and lightening a person’s complexion, Tatung University biological engineering professor Will Chen (陳志成) said this week.

About a decade ago, his research team added prodigiosin to fish feed to enhance the red coloring of a tropical species, Chen said.

About three months later, the doctoral candidates in charge of the fish reported that the experiment had failed, because the fish turned bone-white, he said.

The unexpected result triggered a series of new inquires, eventually leading to the discovery that prodogiosin could potentially counter the effect of melanin on skin tissue, which leads to dark spots and tanning, he said.

Prodigiosin is a naturally occurring carotenoid produced by several types of microbes — including the halophiles from which the team extracted the substance, he said, adding that prodigiosin is two to seven times more effective as an anti-oxidant than other carotenoids.

The Dead Sea is rich with salt-eating halophiles that produce prodigiosin, which could explain the reported cosmetic effects of the salt lake’s mud, he said.

Cell tissue research and early clinical trials at Tri-Service General Hospital found that using prodigosin might reverse melanin-induced pigmentation, he said, adding that the university team was working on applying the discovery to cosmetic medicine.

In other news, a new mosquito trap designed by the National Health Research Institutes (NHRI) quickly identifies whether a mosquito could spread dengue fever and can determine high-risk locations.

Traditional traps are designed to kill mosquitoes, not to identify their species, but the newly developed “smart multimembrane mosquito trapping device” catches them alive and uses special technology to identify them, NHRI researcher Liao Lun-de (廖倫德) said yesterday.

As soon as a mosquito flies into the trap, the device takes 0.07 seconds to photographically determine with more than 90 percent accuracy whether it is the Aedes aegypti or Aedes albopictus species, which spread dengue fever and the Zika virus, Liao said.

The data can be transmitted to the NHRI and help in identifying neighborhoods at high risk for dengue fever, Liao added.

With enough data points, an early-warning system could be developed, allowing authorities to take preventive measures, Liao said.

Because the mosquitoes are captured alive, their blood can be tested to identify what they have bitten and whether they are carrying a virus, the researcher said.

It took the NHRI 18 months to design the trap, which combines photoelectric sensing and artificial intelligence technology, Liao said, adding that each device costs NT$2,000 to NT$4,000.

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