Strong and lightweight, the fabrics can be coloured without chemicals and grown in any shape
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Spotted: Taking nature as the ultimate model for the circular economy, UK company Modern Synthesis uses a bacteria called k.rhaeticus to weave a microbial, cellulose-based fabric that is biodegradable, low-cost, and extremely strong. Cellulose is one of the most common polymers—being the main substance found in wood, cotton, and linen—and the bacteria is one of a family of cellulose-producing microbes.
The company’s microbial weaving process combines human design with a bacteria-produced mesh that is so fine it appears to the human eye as a semi-transparent gel. The bacteria work across a robotically produced frame of the product design to build the textile. The microbes can also be genetically modified to colour the fabrics without the use of chemicals.
The company’s pilot design is a shoe, which was sterilised before being taken out of the lab. K.rhaeticus is found in kombucha, so as well as being biodegradable, the new textiles are non-toxic and ultimately edible.
The Modern Synthesis team is continually refining its work and developing sustainability measures to more definitively answer questions about emissions and other waste produced by microbial weaving. The shoe required less than 10 litres of water to produce compared to the 2,720 litres used to make the average cotton t-shirt.
From new collaborations between companies that are normally competitors to visually depicting climate change via infographics woven into a fabric, materials science is seeking ever more effective means for reducing resource use and pollution.
Written by: Keely Khoury