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Mature soybeans, sitting within their pod. Link to photo information
Mature soybeans, sitting within their pod. The oil from soybeans, mixed with ferulic acid esters, makes SoyScreen an effective sunscreen. Click the image for more information about it.

USDA Agency Grants License on Soy-Based Sunscreen

By Jan Suszkiw
November 3, 2005

SoyScreen, a biodegradable sunscreen derived from soybean oil, could be a step closer to becoming a commercial product for health-conscious consumers.

On October 3rd, the Agricultural Research Service (ARS) granted an exclusive license on the patented sunscreen technology (US no. 6,346,236) to iSOY Technology Corporation of Cary, Illinois. The license stems from a cooperative research and development agreement (CRADA) in which iSOY is working with ARS chemists Joe Laszlo and Dave Compton to scale up production of SoyScreen, as well as create variations of it having different properties.

They developed SoyScreen at the ARS National Center for Agricultural Utilization Research in Peoria, Ill., where 100 full-time scientists explore innovative new ways to create value-added products from U.S. crops, particularly corn and soybeans.

In SoyScreen, they envision a skin- and hair-care product that could expand the market for U.S. soy oil. Of the 17.6 billion pounds consumed domestically, 628 million pounds of soy oil is used for industrial purposes, according to the American Soybean Association's Soy Stats page.

SoyScreen owes its sunburn-preventing properties to ferulic acid, an antioxidant in rice, oats and other plants. To keep the antioxidant from dissolving in water, the Peoria researchers chemically bound it to soy oil using lipase enzymes and heat in an environmentally friendly process called biocatalysis. The resulting lotion won't wash off from swimming or sweat, and is non-polluting, according to Laszlo, in the ARS center's New Crops and Processing Technology Research Unit.

In sun-protection-factor tests there, SoyScreen filtered out harmful ultraviolet light as well as four chemical UV absorbers: oxybenzone, dioxybenzone, octyl methoxycinnamate and padimate-O.

ARS patented the technology in February 2002 on behalf of the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). iSOY is collaborating with Laszlo and Compton under a CRADA with ARS and the Biotechnology Research and Development Corporation, which helps finance commercial-sector development of new lab-bench technologies. iSOY anticipates initial markets in skin-, hair- and related personal-care products.

ARS is the USDA's chief scientific research agency.