MAAscreen is a product innovated by 12 motivated McGill bioengineering students who have extensively researched the problem with conventional sunscreens.

Motivated by their passion for biology, innovation and a brighter future for our oceans, the team members have committed countless hours into developing a solution which is not only sustainable from an environmental and financial standpoint, but also feasible based on the current research on algae-derived mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs).

About BDC

The biodesign challenge aims to think about future applications of biotechnology in a creative way. Mostly targeted towards arts and design students, the BDC asks participants to not only come up with a biology-related concept, but also to thoroughly envision the impact it would have on society.

A unique approach

Our team is entirely composed of bioengineering undergraduate students at McGill University in Montreal. In approaching the Biodesign Challenge, our scientific background allows us to see this project from a unique point of view, one that is rooted in a desire to engineer a better future.


MAAscreen, our eco-friendly and biodegradable sunscreen, resolves many environmental issues that arise from conventional sunscreens. The chemical UV filters in these sunscreens, such as oxybenzone, threaten the marine environment. We made it our mission to find a safer, more natural alternative for consumers.

Inspired by the concept of biomimicry, we came up with the idea of extracting mycosporine like amino acids (MAAs) from algae. These compounds provide broad-UV protection similar to current available sunscreens. To minimize environmental harm, we developed a product whose lifecycle would benefit the environment at every step of the way.

Environmental impact of normal sunscreen

An estimated 6,000-14,000 tons of sunscreen are released in the water every year through recreational water activities and wastewater effluents. Sunscreen molecules can generate reactive oxygen species in the water, causing oxidative stress and possible DNA damage to marine organisms. They are toxic to many species of fish and phytoplankton, and are known to cause coral bleaching. They also disrupt coral larvae development, threatening at least 10% of our coral reefs, which are home to more than 25% of the world’s marine organisms.

The science behind MAAscreen

Our sunscreen can save the habitats of many marine organisms and maintain the biodiversity of marine life by reducing the release of oxybenzone into the water. By basing our product on naturally-occuring MAAs, we use algae to protect skin from the sun's harmful radiation. Recent research establishes that there is potential for MAAs to be used as photoprotectors in cosmetics, but the concept has yet to be developed into a product until now.
See more details under the Research tab.

Our approach to production

The main source of our MAAs will be from an algae-farm to grow the algae under optimized MAA-producing conditions. Furthermore, a branch of MAAscreen will be devoted to a sustainable initiative. During the spring, teams of employees will go to sites of the most damaging algae blooms and harvest the harmful algae out of the water, to be used by our company. This clean-up approach directly helps fix the damage caused by harmful algae blooms (HABs).


Our prototype gives a preview of both the MAAscreen product and its packaging format.
Since our main goal is to provide a more ecological sunscreen product, we have opted for a
biodegradable packaging and reusable containers for the MAAscreen product kit.

Sodium alginate, a product of brown algae, and calcium lactate are used to form the packaging “bubble”
that will enclose the appropriate portions of sunscreen required instead of
commercial plastic bottles. Our packaged cream comes in a “tear-drop” shape and can be
customized to come in different sizes.

Furthermore, the kit includes mess-free portable cases to place the MAAscreen balls that are to be used when going outside.
This allows for immediate application, as one simply picks up a MAAscreen ball and applies it on the desired region.


Why choose MAAscreen?

As previously mentionned, oxybenzone, the compound found in current sunscreens, is detrimental to the environment. Mycosporine-like amino acids (MAAs) are a naturally ocurring, UV-blocking chemical compound released by algae and cyanobacteria when exposed to light. MAAs show promise as an alternative since they are biodegradable, easy to harvest and are already present in nature. The MAAs can then be processed such that they have a strong bioadhesive property, making them water-resistant and long-lasting. Most of the current research on MAAs is based on the algae known as Gracilaria vermiculophylla, a ground-roaming algae that grows as a source of food in oyster farms, but often ends up harming the environment in which it grows.


To ensure a constant flow of MAAs, we will maintain an algaculture based on photobioreactors (PBRs). PBRs will ensure the optimization of MAA output from the algae farms. The MAAs can be harvested from a variety of algae through a common lysing procedure. They will then be purified, mixed with other agents such as moisturizers, and finally made into bioadhesive molecules to properly adhere to the skin. The final product will be encapsulated in an alginate film, creating the custom-sized "bubble" of sunscreen without the need for plastic packaging.

Furthermore, a section of our company will be entirely devoted to bioremediation. Every spring, harmful algal blooms (HABs) take over some bodies of water, suffocating the wildlife beneath them by depriving them of light and food. We would filter the algae out of the water and harvest the collected algae for their MAAs, effectively creating a net positive outcome for the life cycle of our product.

Potential harm

The sunscreen "bubbles", with their attractive and small size, might lead children to think they are candy. Although this product is natural and biocompatible, the sunscreen should not be consumed; the adhesive used for the encapsulation of the sunscreen can lead to health complications, such as suffocation if ingested.

Another potential risk is during harvesting of the HABs. It is important to differentiate the species of algae during cultivation and harvest solely the harmful ones. If this is not respected by the harvesting companies, the biodiversity of marine life could decrease, which is counterproductive to our mission. For this reason, we will ensure that biologists and ecologists work in collaboration with our remediation teams to ensure a proper cleanup.

Meet the team


Ella Reifsnyder

Team Leader


Kieran Guinan

Head of Research Subcommittee


Lucas Hamilton-Bourezg

Head of Website Subcommittee


Ora Cohen

Head of Budget


Sarah Jurchuk

Prototype leader


Anne-Marie Doucet

Presentation leader


Mustafa Fakih

Head of Finance


Kimia Shafighi

Head of Management


Danièle Sossou

Team member


Wen Da Lu

Team member


Mathura Ka

Team member


Megan Wai

Team member

Contact Us

For further inquiries, please contact us at buss.vpexternal@mcgilleus.ca