Scientists use bacteria to create shoes and wallets

A team of researchers has used bacteria to create shoes in an attempt to find more environmentally friendly options for sewing clothes to combat climate change. This was reported by Popular Science with reference to an article on Springer.

A team from Imperial College London has used genetic engineering to create new microbial strains that can be woven into wearable material. The result of this research is a new plastic-free vegan leather that is suitable for things like wallets and shoes.

The global textile industry consumes more than 200 million liters of water every year, and particulate matter released during the washing of polyester and other polymer-based fabrics already accounts for about 20-35% of microplastics in the oceans.

“Bacterial cellulose is inherently vegan, and its growth requires a tiny fraction of the carbon emissions, water, land use and time of farming cows for leather,” Tom Ellis, a bioengineering professor at Imperial College London and study lead author, said in a statement on Wednesday. “Unlike plastic-based leather alternatives, bacterial cellulose can also be made without petrochemicals, and will biodegrade safely and non-toxically in the environment.”

While synthetic dyeing of vegan leather remains one of the most toxic steps in the fashion industry, another advantage of vegan leather made from bacteria is its ability to dye itself.

Ellis and his team genetically modified the bacteria to produce the black pigment, also known as eumelanin, on their own. Over the course of two weeks, the new material grew on the finished boot mold.

Once finished, the leather-like cellulose was placed in a special machine that gently shook it for 48 hours, causing the bacteria to begin to darken from the inside. Finally, the finished material was attached to the sole to complete the entire process.