The Next Generation of Microbial Quality Control

Published: 23-Oct-2023

NGS is a game-changing technique that can sequence millions of pieces of DNA all at once, providing a snapshot of the microbiome at that point in time

Thirty years ago, the Human Genome Project seemed like something straight out of a science fiction novel. Scientists were trying to decipher the chemical makeup of the human genetic code, the blueprints of life. This project aimed to sequence the entire length of human DNA, over 3 billion bases long, and it took 13 years to discover 92% of the human genome. The goal was to discover the complete set of human genes and make them accessible for further biological studies. This was all done by using the state-of-the-art scientific tools at the time, Sanger DNA sequencing. Fast forward, there’s a new technology that changes the DNA sequencing landscape, next-generation sequencing (NGS). This method can get the same results in just a few days, with the Guinness World Record of only 5 hours and 2 minutes to sequence the human genome!

NGS is a game-changing technique that can sequence millions of pieces of DNA all at once, providing a snapshot of the microbiome at that point in time. The microbiome refers to a community of microorganisms within a specific environment, which includes anything with DNA – bacteria, yeast, molds, viruses and even plasmids. With NGS, scientists now get a deeper and more detailed look into the DNA level to identify new, diverse microbial species where they were previously undetected.

NGS has additional uses in assessing microbial quality of your manufacturing environment. You can test a variety of samples to see what microbial species are present without significant preparatory work. NGS has revolutionised the field of microbiology and has found widespread applications in many industries including cosmetics and environmental studies including agriculture and textiles.

NGS for Cosmetics and Personal Care Products

What does this mean to you? NGS opens up many possibilities to learn about the tiny world around us that we couldn’t see before. Imagine unlocking the secrets of your skin to the microscopic level by analyzing your tiny inhabitants, skin microorganisms. This can pave the way for revolutionary skin care insights and personalized treatments. NGS opens intriguing and fascinating possibilities for personalized cosmetic products. By analyzing the microorganisms on an individual’s skin or scalp, companies can create tailored products that optimize the microbial balance for improved outcomes. This personalized approach recognizes the unique microbial composition of each individual and reveals exciting, new frontiers in customized consumer experiences.

Another example is in anti-dandruff products. Dandruff is a reoccurring and frustrating chronic scalp condition which affects a large percentage of the population worldwide. Various environmental and physical factors have been linked to the development of dandruff. Two of the most common factors
linked to dandruff are activity of oil glands in your scalp and an overabundance of yeast. However, those are not the sole causes of dandruff, which makes it very difficult to treat without knowing the root cause. One way to learn more about what is happening on the scalp is to identify the scalp’s microbiome and see the distribution of microbial species. Is it truly an overabundance of yeast or something else?

This is where NGS can help to develop personalized products to balance the microorganisms on your scalp. Many scalp conditions like dandruff are most often treated with over-the-counter drug products in the form of shampoos. NGS can be utilized to do more than just understand a skin condition. Scientists can study the interactions between the microbiome and the product formulations. By understanding how specific ingredients impact the microbial community, companies can optimize formulations to maximize the beneficial effects of the formula while minimizing potential disruptions to the healthy microorganisms. This knowledge paves the way for the development of next-generation products.

NGS for Quality Control

Just like understanding your scalp microbial health, you can investigate your manufacturing microbial health. For personal care product manufacturing, one of the standard ways of assessing microbial quality in a product is through microbial limits testing. This test detects the presence of microorganisms that could be in your product. Microbial contamination can be introduced into the product through contaminated ingredients, processing equipment, or poorly maintained water systems, just to name a few. So how do you know if the microorganisms you find are objectionable? NGS can be an easy way to
get an overview of the microorganisms present wherever you would like to test – for example, your product, a swab from the filling equipment, or a water sample. Traditional DNA sequencing methods (i.e., Sanger DNA sequencing) require pure cultures of microorganisms to analyze. NGS does not have
this limitation and can analyze pure cultures, mixed cultures, and even samples that cannot be cultured easily or at all.NGS enables the detection and monitoring of microorganisms that have the potential to contaminate cosmetic, home, and personal care products. Accurate identification of harmful microbes is crucial for ensuring product safety. Product and environmental samples can contain a variety of different microbial species.

NGS technology allows for the simultaneous identification of different mixed microorganisms in a sample. An example where NGS is very powerful is monitoring your water quality. Water is the most widely used ingredient in home and personal care products and is a common source of microbial contamination. However, the microorganisms that grow well in water can be difficult to culture on standard agar plates. These microorganisms can be stressed and require specialized agar media to grow but even still may struggle. You don’t want to miss the bad bugs because your method of monitoring your water quality couldn’t find them. NGS allows you to identify microbial species without depending on microbial growth. Using DNA extraction, you can analyze the water directly. In addition, within the sample, you can get a relative abundance of each microorganism species detected. NGS can get a pulse on your water quality and allows you to conduct an overall assessment of the microbes present in your water that could potentially contaminate your final products.

NGS can do more than simply identify species. It can also give insight into their origin. There can be situations in manufacturing where you have found multiple contaminations with the same microbial species. For example, you have found contamination in several water sources throughout your manufacturing facility. Is this microorganism, which you do not want in your product, coming from the same source? Strain typing can help you confirm if the species you’ve found is indistinguishable from each other, suggesting a common origin, or identifying that you may have multiple and different sources of contamination. NGS allows you to streamline this process by employing inferred strain typing – using published DNA sequence data to analyze specific genes and comparing your isolates under investigation. It’s critical to know if you are dealing with one contamination event or multiple. This process gets you to the contamination’s root cause with less laboratory work.

As a cosmetic manufacturer, your goal is always to produce a product that is safe for your consumers, with the added expectations of product quality aesthetics and performance. Several ways in which manufacturing can ensure product safety and product dependability are through implementing manufacturing controls, environmental monitoring, and microbial release testing, but there’s more that can be done. Next-generation sequencing is the next tool you can utilize to help give you control over your manufacturing process and your product by providing you with in-depth information about your facility. This information can be used to track your environmental quality status at a level you haven’t reached before.

NGS is the New Frontier

The application of next generation sequencing in the personal care industry represents a significant leap forward in product development and quality control throughout your production process. By harnessing the power of NGS, companies can gain valuable insights into the microbial world and leverage this knowledge to create innovative and personalized products. NGS doesn’t just help in the development of your product - it also ensures the safety and efficacy of your product. Identify microorganisms with confidence in a variety of samples that can’t be evaluated by any other method. As this technology continues to advance, the personal care industry will undoubtedly witness further transformative changes, benefiting both businesses and consumers alike. NGS is a service that can be done in-house but is best outsourced because of the complexity and technical expertise that is needed. If you want to explore NGS for manufacturing quality control, reach out to us at

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