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Freshly Baked Science

Bacteria in Your Jeans?

13th October 2018

Denim is used to make so many different items of clothing, like jeans, jackets and dungarees (check out the history of dungarees here). The most popular and stereotypical colour of denim is blue, but the process of dyeing the material blue releases a lot of chemicals. These chemicals pollute the water and can have harmful effects on aquatic animals!

 

In an age where we are becoming more and more aware of the effects we are having on the environment, scientists have been working hard to find a more eco-friendly alternative to the current dye (Indigo). One alternative they have been developing is the use of bacteria! We know this sounds very unsanitary, but we promise it doesn't mean our jeans will be disease ridden!

 

Scientists found a chemical called 'indican', which is found in plants and has all the properties of a perfect dye. The chemical isn't naturally blue, but just one chemical reaction can turn it into indigo! A colony of bacteria was genetically engineered to start producing indican, like a factory of little microbe workers. When they'd produced plenty of indican, it was harvested and used to soak a piece of cloth. It was then exposed to an enzyme that turns the indican into indigo and the cloth turned blue!

 

Although it may sound like the perfect solution to making blue jeans more green (not in colour), there is still much research needed into how they can make the process more efficient. The biggest issue is the volume of bacteria required. They currently need a litre of the bacterial culture to produce 1g of indican! To put this into perspective, one pair of jeans needs 18g of indican to dye them blue... that's a massive 18 litres of bacteria per pair!!

 

So, we may not be having our jeans dyed using bacteria just yet, but it is definitely on the cards for the future! If we perfect this process, it could start to be used for all kinds of dyeing processes! Can you think of any other ways this could be used? Let us know via social media (@wonkscience) or email (hannah@wonkmagazine.co.uk)!

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