BioCouture

I don't usually like to post links from BoingBoing because I imagine everyone has already seen this already, but as it is about some of my favorite things (synthetic biology, biomaterials, and fashion) I couldn't resist!

i-c4f9cd04fbe368cee686fb48cbb01205-bio-couture-2-thumb-510x379-52961.jpgDesigner Suzanne Lee makes clothes using cellulose-based fabrics made entirely by cultures of yeast and bacteria. From what I could understand from the ecouterre article, the process is similar to how kombucha is made, using the microbes to ferment a green tea mixture, although I thought that the film that forms on top of the fermenting tea in kombucha is some sort of yeast/bacteria symbiotic biofilm, not cellulose (if anyone knows more about how this works please add more info in the comments!).

i-0222797ae0f0a47936c2dc6784d07e55-Kimono_post-thumb-510x498-52964.jpgI love how this project highlights the biological source of all (natural) fabrics and the issues surrounding the sustainability of the production of said fabrics. The translucence and brittleness of the material makes the clothes look weirdly skin-like, and I wonder how synthetic biology could be used to make different kinds of microbial fabrics with different, more fabric-like properties. What will the fabrics of the future be made out of? How can we make our clothing sturdy and attractive as well as sustainable and ethical?

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Some bacteria can produce impressive amounts of cellulose and secrete it as microscopic strands and ribbons to form a biofilm. Among these is the bacteria used to produce vinegar (Acetobacter xylinum).
http://www.botany.utexas.edu/facstaff/facpages/mbrown/position1.htm

I don't know if that is what they used, but it seems likely, since it is so easy to obtain and grow, and it naturally kills off competing bacteria due to the low PH.

By mousedude (not verified) on 12 Jul 2010 #permalink

Just some weeks ago, I read about a Swedish team that made synthetic blood vessels with bacteria-produced cellulose, as an alternative to transplanting blood vessels from elsewhere on the body. They had succeeded in making items that do not provoke the immune system, but animal testing will be required for years before the method will be used on human patients.
It is extraordinary to see bigger objects made the same way.

By Birger Johansson (not verified) on 12 Jul 2010 #permalink

You're right, it's exactly how Kombucha is made. Gluconacetobacter xylinum, the main bacterial component of the Yeast/Bacteria culture we call Kombucha, uses ethanol to produce cellulose and acetic acid. The cellulosic monomers polymerise at the oxygen-rich surface of the liquid, forming the thick raft that is used to "subculture" kombucha, and which can be dried out to form a very tough "fabric". It's surprising just how much water the pure cellulose film holds; it can go from .5cm to paper-thin upon drying!

I've been playing with this for a while in my kitchen, DIYbio style, to see what factors encourage rapid growth of high-grade film. I've found that you can get clearer shades of off-white by using low-tannin tea, and that you can encourage very rapid production of cellulose by making "broth" with alcoholic drinks you're not planning to drink, although I don't yet know if the quality is up to scratch.

I am planning to isolate the bacteria and combine them with some highly active Saccharomyces, to see if I can make a more specialised "Kombucha" for making fabrics instead of kombucha-drink. I'll probably be sharing results on my blog if and when I do so. For now, I'm still getting the hang of the basic symbiotic culture.

Hi my name is daisy and im a high school student and im trying to do a science project about growing microbial cellulose to make our own cloth. I had been researching alot about this and all i find is the articles of suzanne lee and i need other articles about people that had done this project to get more ideas. In class i been researching but many articles that look interesting are blocked by the school. Can someone help me? i need to found out if the ph of the acetic acid and what type of microbes could i used that wouldn't be harmful.