Nov 5, 2015 | By Kira

If the idea of embedding active, ancient bacteria into your clothing to help control your sweat seems backwards, if not repulsive, think again. Researchers at MIT’s Media Lab have discovered that an ancient bacteria from Japanese fermented soy beans can actually open and contract in reaction to sweat and humidity, and they are working with fashion designers at the Royal College of Arts and sports brand New Balance to create a 3D printed biohybrid material known as bioLogic that can be used in traditional garments and athletic wear.

The bioLogic fabric relies on natto cells that have been embedded directly into a spandex material thanks to a custom-made 3D printer. In case you haven’t been to Japan or seen the YouTube videos, natto is a traditional Japanese dish of fermented soybeans that is well known for its slimy texture and overpowering taste and smell. What makes natto so special, however, is that it is created through the fermentation process of the bacteria Bacillus Subtilis Natto, discovered a millennium ago by unsuspecting Japanese samurai in the midst of a battle.

The natto bacteria, which live in dry rice stalks, are extremely sensitive to exposure to humidity, moisture and heat, changing size and shape based on their environment. While the samurai discovered they could use the bacteria to transform their soybeans into a gooey, satisfying meal, thousands of years later, researchers at MIT are using it to create a revolutionary bio-skin fabric that could change how we make and design active wear.

Since the natto bacteria expand and contract in reaction to moisture, when incorporated into clothing, it can be used to create ‘cooling vents’ that open and close as the body heats up. As humidity levels increase, each natto cell acts as a ‘nanoactuator’ and can rapidly expand up to 50% of its original size. Using this insight, the bioLogic team developed their own micro-resolution 3D bioprinter that can print natto cells directly into spandex textiles. “We're starting to build up an automatic printing system in which fresh cells can be assembled on a thin fabric," said MIT Media Lab's Jifei Ou. "The different expansion and contraction level of the new materials creates a variety of bending behaviours in space and time."

The resulting biohybrid material can then be taken fresh of the 3D printer and incorporated into traditional materials. “The BioLogic project enables us to explore new innovative materials combined with traditional garment-making techniques,” said Oskana Anilionyte, a fashion designer on the research team. By cutting specific patterned slits into the fabric, such as the reptilian diamonds show in the video below, and embedding bioprinted lines of the natto-cell infused material, the designers can actually control how and where the garment with react to the wearer’s body temperature. In the case of the dancers, the triangles along their back and shoulder blades, which emit the most heat, peel back, letting heat out and fresh air in.

"The designs are inspired by the natto cells' response to different body parts, and that creates really fine flat movements," said Oskana. "The experience of wearing these garments is very special because they come to life once you start wearing them." “Fashion is changing and this project is part of it…I believe it’s time where we think the way we create fashion and the reason behind it.”

The biohybrid material has further applications once heating circuits are embedded, allowing the material to be controlled by electric signals. The team has also demonstrated other real-life uses for the 3D printed natto bacteria: a natto-infused teabag label activated by hot water steam that indicates when the tea is ready to drink;  bio-hybrid flowers that open and close their petals and even change colour as they are exposed to sun-like heat; or even a 3D printed natto lampshade that changes shape based on the heat of the lightbulb, perhaps affecting the amount of light diffused in the room.

Perhaps most exciting, however, is the potential collaboration with sports brand New Balance, which could seek to incorporate the fabric into performance-enhancing sportswear for consumers or professional athletes.

“bioLogic seeks a harmonious perspective, where bioLogical and engineering approaches flow in sync. These animate cells are harvested in a bio lab, assembled by a micron-resolution bio-printing system, and transformed into responsive fashion, a ‘Second Skin’," said the researchers. “We are imagining a world where actuators and sensors can be grown rather than manufactured, being derived from nature as opposed to engineered in factories.”

The bioLogic project is the latest instance of the Tangible Media Group’s Radical Atoms vision, and was developed in collaboration with the MIT Dept. of Chemical Engineering, Royal College of Art and New Balance. The team members, who come from backgrounds in design, art, science, and engineering, include Lining Yao, Wen Wang, Guanyun Wang, Helen Steiner, Jifei Ou, Oksana Nilionyte and Professor Hiroshi Ishii.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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