Technical Article!

Technical Article


This biodesign study, a cross pollination of nature, science and design explored the potential of dyeing with bacterial dyes, questioning if microbial pigments could be a valid alternative to the use of chemical dyes for natural fibres. Hazardous dye substances affect the health of both textile workers and wearers of clothes, and they escape into the environment. In the textile industry alone there are 3600 types of chemical dyes. Trends point to negative chemical dye impacts rising, with the potential for catastrophic outcomes in future (EMF, 2018).
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation calls for promising innovations to reduce the negative impact of traditional wet dye processing. The case for re-thinking dyeing underpins this study. The experiments show Janothinobacterium lividum pigment, violaccin, can effectively dye wool, wool blend and silk textiles. The living organisms form an integral part of the design process.

Alternatives to chemical dyeing are high on the health and sustainability agenda. In 2016 Green Cross and Pure Earth in an Environmental Toxin Report quantified the negative impact of dyes on health resulting from the sources of environmental toxins and the related pollutants (Green Cross, 2016). Particularly in waste water effluents of dye factories can pose a complex threat to health and environment. The report identifies dyes as a key component of pollution at fifty sites in China, Bangladesh and India and an estimated 220,000 to 430,000 people are at risk daily to the burden of disease. The dyes assessed were primarily used in the production of consumer products, commonly found in paints, textiles, printing inks, paper, and plastics. The wastewater load from the use of textile dyes is a key component of pollution.

In a new circular textiles economy renewable resources will be extracted from nature to introduce a new source of innovation (EMF, 2018).. The redesign of textile dyeing with bacteria J. lividum offers such opportunity. It is an aerobic, gram negative, soil dwelling bacterium that has a distinctive dark violet colour. This colour is due to a compound called violacein which is produced when glycerol is metabolised as a carbon source. It has anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-fungal properties (Shirata, 2000).
In this research a series of three sequential experiments involving 12 individual tests were performed. The bacteria J. lividum was cultured on Nutrient Agar and incubated for a range of times at a standard (26C) temperature on various natural fibre fabrics and fabric blends.

Results and conclusions
The experiments established the optimal growth conditions for J. lividum pigments in Nutrient Agar and a range of factors influencing the adherence of bacterial pigment to different fibres/yarns and fabrics. Large amounts of J. lividum bluish-purple colour, violaccin pigment, adhered to (254 x 254mm) merino wool, wool/silk, wool/alpaca and silk satin fabric samples. The amount of purple or blue shade depended on the fibre type, yarn thickness, fabric texture, impact of autoclaving, and placement of fabric on nutrient agar (Fig 1-3). The implications of resource use in incubation, the aesthetic consequences of various steps in the process and the resulting material properties of the substrate were all considered.

Such waterless dyeing solutions and chemical-free technologies would eliminate toxic wastewater discharge during the dyeing process without using substances of concern. Additionally, the dyed textiles produced allow us to consider the collaborative performance strategies between microbiologist and designer, and the nature and mechanics of the symbiosis between organism and design.



The author gratefully acknowledges the funding by Massey University under Strategic Research funding grants, 2018. Anneke Walls, Lab Manager, College of Health, Massey University, kindly provided advice and oversaw the Lab process

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