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Living Clothing Shape-Shifts When You Get Sweaty

Living Clothing Shape-Shifts When You Get Sweaty

You probably don’t think about how cool your sweat is. Sure, it ruins your clothes and makes you smell, but what’s actually causing those effects – bacteria with a knack for breaking down the proteins your body spits out – is pretty incredible. In a new project they call “BioLogic,” the whiz kids at MIT’s Tangible Media Group are attempting to harness the power of your under-appreciated underarms to create moving objects that are powered by microorganisms, rather than electricity.

BioLogic relies on Bacillus Subtilis natto bacteria, which react to atmospheric moisture. By partnering with New Balance and designers from the Royal College of Art, they’ve developed a material that expands and contracts with quick changes in humidity and heat – say, the kind produced when the dancers in the video start to sweat.

By printing a biofilm containing these living “natto cells,” and overlaying it onto a spandex suit, the team was able to harness the dancers’ biological processes to control the bacteria’s behavior. A little humidity and the cells start to curl up, a bit more and they open completely, allowing for maximum airflow. The result is a shapeshifting “second skin” akin to that belonging to a certain blue mutant.

Natto cells were discovered over 1,000 years ago by a Japanese samurai, and now MIT is growing them by the billion. “In the era where biology is the new interface, we are imagining a world where actuators and sensors can be grown rather than manufactured,” explains the team. While the current cells haven’t been altered, concept creator Lining Yao sees sees big possibilities on the horizon. For example, imagine being able to weave bioluminescent bacteria into fabric for low-cost lighting.

“We’re just at the beginning.”

Want to learn more? Check out the “making of” video below:

IMAGES: MIT Media Lab

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