On May 25th, 2017 we learned about

Biological components in fabric aim to make responsive and self-repairing clothing

If your wardrobe is feeling a bit lifeless, you’ll be pleased to know that researchers are looking into adding bits of biology to clothing, turning them into dynamic, changing pieces of fabric. Unlike work to create wearable electronics, these concepts shouldn’t require any new batteries or other power sources, as evolution has primed these cells and proteins to do the work without needing to be plugged in. At this point, neither project is worried about fashion as much as function, but that’s OK when you’re talking about self-repairing, shape changing pants and shirts.

Moving with microbes

The MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group has recently unveiled their “biohybrid” workout suit, which is designed to help athletes stay cool and dry during a workout. To do this, they’re basically co-opting a lot of existing concepts, but putting them together in a new, shirt-shaped way. The cooling is still handled by sweat evaporating off the body to cool down, but that sweaty skin will have better access to the air thanks to the clothes’ built-in bacteria.

Now most people aren’t looking for more bacteria on their body, but these microbes are actually built into the fabric itself. Harmless bacteria like Bacillus subtilis is integrated into small flaps in the cloth, with those openings being clustered over where people sweat the most. As moisture, in this case from sweat, builds up, the bacteria naturally absorb it, and basically puff up like a wet sponge. Since they’re unevenly distributed on the clothing’s flaps, as they expand, they can cause the small flaps to curl open, exposing the sweaty skin to fresh air. Even having sweat-ports in your shirt isn’t your thing, the team is also looking at other applications for geometry-shifting bacteria, like lampshades that open up when exposed to heat, or shades that close in response to ambient humidity.

Sealed by squid proteins

If you just don’t like holes in your clothes, chemists at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, D.C. have got you covered, albeit covered in squid proteins. Squid suction-cups have been found to be very adaptable, and can basically be reshaped and fused into shapes needed to help the squid grab hold of prey. Researchers have now isolated the proteins that make this possible, and are looking into using it on common fabrics, like linen or wool.

The most pressing use for this idea is to help protective clothing, like hazmat suits, be repaired more easily, although there is interest in expanding it to wider public use as well. Since the proteins can basically “glue” two pieces of fabric together with water and some pressure, there’s a chance that it could someday be used to patch up small tears in clothes in washing machine.

For now, both sets of biologically-enhanced clothes aren’t available for general use, but as growing proteins and bacteria becomes more common in commercial processes, we might soon have clothes that really are closer to a second skin.

Source: MIT Has Designed a Workout Suit Covered With Living Cells to Keep You Cool by Leah Rosenbaum, Seeker

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