Tobacco Plants Provide New Beauty Secret?

Will tobacco plants provide the next cosmetic filler? Very possibly, according to findings recently published in the journal Biomacromolecules.

Among the beauty-obsessed, the number-one problem with smoking is that it ages your skin. (Let alone what lung cancer does for the complexion.) But a new technique could re-harness the tobacco plant in the name of youthful beauty.

Researcher Oded Shoseyov of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem has figured out how to get tobacco plants to produce a human-like collagen. Collagen is the main protein in skin, tendons, cartilage, bone and connective tissue. It typically declines during the normal aging process, allowing cheeks to sag and wrinkles to set it.

While primarily being marketed for medical purposes — such as for bone and heart repairs — the new synthetic collagen may someday be used cosmetically.

"This is a very unique collagen," said Noa Lapido, assistant vice president of CollPlant, the company handling the patents coming from Shoseyov's laboratory. "It is very very similar to human collagen and, as it has not come in contact with any animals, it is much better and much safer than other collagens."

Most commercial collagen currently comes from farm animals, such as cows and pigs, and human cadavers. Collagen from such sources can carry viruses and prions, such as those associated with mad-cow disease. The new collagen avoids these risks, the researchers say.

It is not that tobacco plants naturally have these beautifying or medical benefits. Producing human-like collagen from a tobacco plant is a technological feat, involving the simultaneous "turning on" of five specific genes in a genetically modified tobacco plant. 

Cosmetic uses of the new collagen are currently unlikely, Lapido said, as the price is several hundred to several thousand times more expensive than other options. But it may become more reasonable, she said, "in a few years time."