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Lab-Grown Shoe Material Stitched From Bacteria Steps Toward A Greener Future


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Shoemakers have fallen head over heels for polyester and nylon garments due to their affordability, adaptability, and endurance. Nonetheless, these textiles are petroleum-derived, so their production and disposal wreak havoc on the environment. In an attempt to stamp out these harmful effects, one company is growing a new solution, literally. Biotechnology company Modern Synthesis uses sugar from plant waste and microbes to grow “microbial textiles.” The process uses bacterial fermentation to cultivate a sustainable alternative to traditional fabric used for footwear.

Waste feedstock containing sugars from discarded fruit and agricultural waste provides a type of bacteria that cultivates on the sugar. This will then derive a lightweight material known as nanocellulose, which can be grown over a framework of thread to create this new synthetic textile. It eventually produces a material that looks like nylon, ripstop, or coated textile but feels like paper. That doesn’t mean it’s as fragile as paper, though. In a report from Dezeen, the company states that the nanocellullose is “eight times stronger than steel and stiffer than Kevlar.”

The textile is as versatile as it is eco-friendly and can be dyed and given various coatings to transform it into many different materials. The company likens it to leather, and if brought to production, it could—like many other synthetic types of leather out there—work toward  Bacteria cellulose is commonly found in facemasks, kombucha, and an Asian dessert called nata de coco. These carry the same organism but use different processes to get desired results. Modern Synthesis is digging its heels into the benefits of this bacteria, but instead of a tasty treat, you could be strutting down the street with it instead.

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