Someday in the future, people will look back on this era of trying to slow down spoilage (bacteria growth) in foods, cosmetics, even swimming pools, with harsh chemicals and additives, and say, “That’s weird. They had to add stuff? Everyone knows that the sun can do it all.”
Meet one of the innovators who believes the future has already arrived.
The word “photonics” may not be familiar to most of us, but it’s Darren Hickman’s passion. In May, Hickman was appointed CEO of Engeenuity, a biotechnology company now developing chemical-free, natural methods of solving many of the world’s problems.
Engeenuity calls its photonics applications enLIGHTen™, a revolutionary way of using the sun’s photolytic power (chemical decomposition caused by light) to kill bacteria. We’ll explain more below, but the response from the technology community has been impressive: Engeenuity recently received a 2015 Technology Innovator, Emerging Technology Award 2015 and a Big Innovation 2015 award, and received an Edison Award for innovation in 2013.
Later this year, they will launch Card on Guard—a chemical-free way of treating pool and hot tub water.
Hickman is a board member of the Green Spa Network, and he and his wife, Szilvia, also run the organic natural skin care business Szép Élet, distributors of ilike organic skin care. We recently had the opportunity to talk with Darren about his work, the relationship between his two businesses, and how enLIGHTen™ technology can naturally clean your pool, improve the shelf-life of food, help prevent bee colony collapse, improve the health of animals, humans, and a host of other things that will help create a more sustainable world.
WW: You work with one foot in organic skin care and the other in photolytic chemical processes. What is the connection?
DH: I’ve been in the organic skin care business for a long time. I became very interested in the root cause and effect of how natural and organic herbs improve health. Research led me to a number of pretty amazing discoveries about the body processes that are a result of the foods we eat, the products we put on our skin, and even how exercise impacts our bodies in a very similar way. Organic skin care, like eating fresh fruits and vegetables, is an external method that causes positive chemical processes in the body. Engeenuity uses a light based photolytic process to stimulate internal oxidizing and anti-oxidizing processes.
I am part of The Green Spa Network because I truly believe in its motto, “Vital People, Vital Planet.” At its core that means that human health and the planet’s health are interrelated. The research we conduct at Engeenuity has proven that there are ways to protect and improve both people and planet at the same time by identifying the biological connections of the two.
I was first introduced to this technology as a natural and chemical-free way to preserve our skin care products. I was immediately blown away by the technology’s proven application, but I also saw the possibility for food preservation, agriculture, healthcare, and more. The technology can not only limit the growth of pathogens, but also boost the immune system of biological organisms.
WW: One of Engeenuity’s taglines is “Nature finding solutions.”
DH: A lot of people have stopped believing in nature as a source for solutions. But people know (and if they don’t know, they should know) that the chemical, pharmaceutical, and medical industries have always depended on nature for inspiration. They are constantly looking to nature for examples of how things can be done and then mimicking it synthetically. For decades pharmaceutical companies have sent scientists into the Amazonian rainforest, for example, to study the animals, insects and plants, to figure out what they do and how they do it, so they can recreate it and sell it.
Engeenuity is about “nature finding solutions” because, literally, we are not replacing or coming up with a synthetic version for nature. We are simply using the forces of nature. That’s the key: it’s all about gathering, storing, and re-emitting light. Sunlight is best, (artificial light can work also) and that’s it. So, we truly have nature providing a solution.
WW: Tell us about the enLIGHTen™ technology.
DH: We are leveraging the interactions between sun and light and organisms. In a nutshell, we use ultraviolet, infrared, and also visible light to split hydrogen from oxygen in H2O. The resulting atoms reconnect and small amounts of reactive oxygen species are formed. More simply put, we use light to make free radicals. Free radicals are harmful to bacteria.
We can use this for water treatment, like we are doing with our Card on Guard product that treats pools and hot tubs.Most people know that bacteria can multiply and die at incredible rates. Card on Guard creates free radicals that weaken the bacteria so much that not only will they die, but they also won’t reproduce. So, their limited reproduction is the real key because it ends up decreasing the overall level of bacteria at an incredible rate. And it is all because of the sun. The infrared and UV light create these reactions and the bacteria cannot stand up to it.
WW: People have been using UV technology to purify water for a long time. How is enLIGHTen™ different?
DH: We are the only company with a freestanding device that only requires ambient light. It is a form of solar cell or photovoltaic cell. This cell captures, retains, and re-emits light. It does not require electricity. Other solutions use mechanically created light to purify water, but ours does not. So, it ends up being very user-friendly, less expensive, more eco-friendly, and completely off the grid. We’ve essentially created a portable and self-contained way to leverage the natural power of the sun to create free radicals.
WW: Aren’t free radicals bad for our bodies?
DH: This is where it gets a little more complicated. In the skin care world, we are very familiar with free radicals because 80% of skin aging is caused by sunlight. This happens when sunlight strikes the skin and forms free radicals in the body. You might say that free radicals are bad because they lead to aging. Well, yes and no. Free radicals also help protect us from bacteria, viruses, and infections. The key is managing and limiting the levels of free radicals with offsetting antioxidants.
When free radicals reach above-average levels in our body, our system responds by producing enzymes (superoxide dismutase, catalase, and peroxidase) that act as super-antioxidants. These are what we call endogenous, or internal, antioxidants and they, in effect, cancel out the free radicals and also provide a host of other benefits. The body over-produces these enzymes because it is responding to the free radicals like they are a foreign invasion. Well, that provides an ultimate health benefit.
Moderate exercise works on the body in exactly the same way. Every time you breathe you are creating free radicals, and if you exercise moderately you are creating even more free radicals. Your body responds to this elevated level of free radicals by producing these enzymes, which ultimately make you healthier.
But you can have too many free radicals. I am sure that you’ve heard stories of extreme athletes who die early. This is in part because they’ve built up so many free radicals in their bodies that they essentially “age” prematurely and their bodies breakdown.
Because it is a very simple organism, bacteria cannot produce enough antioxidants to keep up with the amount of free radicals that are produced by the enLIGHTen™ technology. In any water environment, when you create free radicals, they act as an overwhelming force against bacteria. It can’t counterbalance the free radicals, so it weakens and dies. Higher organisms such as humans and other animals, even plants and insects, can produce enough antioxidants.
WW: So, it’s all about the free radicals. What other applications does the technology have?
DH: First we’re launching the Card on Guard technology for purifying pools and hot tubs. This is a pretty easy way to introduce a new technology to the market place. But, the technology does so many things related to bacteria control.
We are creating a stamp-size version that that can essentially be used as a label that extends the shelf life of fresh foods. It could be applied to bread, milk, meat, produce – you name it. For example, we did a little study with meat. When left at room temperature for 24 hours, raw ground beef treated with our technology had 96 percent less bacteria. We’ve also found that refrigerated milk lasts for months and bread lasts weeks longer.
We are doing research to address bee colony collapse. Virus- and bacteria-carrying mites are partly to blame for this crisis. We are working with the company Apilab, who is forming a joint venture with a company called Vita Europe. These are some of the biggest apiary (bee keeping) service companies in the world. They service about 30 percent of the beehives globally. When placed in the hives, our enLIGHTen technology is dramatically reducing the presence of the nosema virus and the varroa mites that are affecting the health of bees, and possibly causing colony collapse.
We are also researching and developing applications that work directly to boost immune system response in plants, animals, and humans. In dairy farms, we treat the water that the cows drink and find this makes their bodies healthier by dropping the somatic cell count (a white blood cell count that is used to measure the presence of pathogens) by 30 to 40 percent. My cousins are dairy farmers, and they are using it, and it is a $20,000 to $30,000 dollar contribution to their farm. So, it’s exciting because I think it can help save the small dairy farmer. They are living and dying by somatic cell counts. They are having to dump their milk and cull their herds. If they can improve the health of their cows by the water the cows drink, then the small, local, family run dairy farm has a better chance of surviving.
We are also exploring innovations in health care. Ultimately, it has huge implications for preemptive healthcare, antibacterial applications, and even anti-inflammatory medicine. We are actually using cards right now in a hospital in Panama and the study is showing great results in reducing post-surgery inflammation and accelerated healing.
WW: How do you think the enLIGHTen™ technology will affect the future?
DH: In ten to fifteen years, it will be commonplace for people to consume food and water and milk—and all kinds of things—that are all natural. They will look back at this era of “preservatives” (even natural ones) as a bit of an oddity.
The technology’s future lies in agriculture, food, health (for animals and humans), and water treatment. It will be all-pervasive as soon as people see that it is something that just makes sense.
I believe is that if we let natural systems work the way they are designed to work, and if we understand and leverage the interactions between those systems, then wellness improves on all levels. When we work with and not against natural elements, we become healthier. Our body’s immune system improves AND the earth’s ecosystems improve. That, for me, is not just the future of wellness, but the future of humanity and our earth.