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MIT biofabric ventilates workout clothes with bacteria

A multidisciplinary team from MIT collaborated with athletic-wear company New Balance and created a biofabric that uses bacteria to ventilate workout clothes, Smithsonian reports.

The team of scientists developed clothes that have a layer of latex integrated between two thin layers of bacterial cells, each thick of 1 to 5 microns, the equivalent of 1/15th the width of a human hair. When the wearer of the clothes sweats during working out, the cells on the outside remain the same, but the cells on the side that faces the body absorbs the moisture and expands, forcing flaps within the garments to open.

“Some people might be afraid that the bacteria may contaminate my home, or my kids,” says Wen Wang, an MIT bioengineer. “Our skin is not a vacuum. If you have no bacteria on it, it will have some bad bacteria on it. So in the future, we also want to combine microbiome technology with our current design to make a microbiome-carrying garment,” he explained.

The scientists also managed to genetically alter the bacteria and introduce fluorescence into it, so as to expand potential future applications such as microbes that emit a rather pleasant smell. “It would be easy to incorporate other genetically engineered microbes into this garment as well,” says Wang.

Despite the fact that the technology has been patented, its durability through the wash cycles is yet to be demonstrated. “Longer term studies could be necessary to find out what might go wrong. I don’t see that being a fundamental challenge, but once you identify them you can spend time addressing it,” says Ozgur Sahin, an associate professor of biological sciences and physics at Columbia University, who was not involved in the study. “If this is a wearable material, then it should resist friction, for example, with the skin. It should resist washing, maybe the chemicals that are used in washing detergents, for example. Sweat itself might have effects beyond opening and closing the vents,” he explained.

“This kind of thinking, that cloth can actually be dynamic and responsive, and that response is better for its functions, is generally an exciting aspect of the work, and it can potentially be applied in many other areas,” he concluded.

Lydia Peirce

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