Microbial cells make a living, breathing workout outfit.
That’s right, you heard me correctly. A living, breathing workout outfit. A team of science bofs at MIT have designed a breathable workout suit which has its own ventilating flaps made from Microbial cells. The flaps, which appear on the outfit in various sizes from thumbnail – to finger size and line with a special microbial cell. These cells shrink and expand in response to humidity. These tiny cells act as tiny sensors which open the slaps when the wearer works up a sweat, and start closing them when the body starts cooling off.
Not only have they designed this awesome new workout outfit, they have also put together a running shoe which contains similar microbial cells within its inner layer. These cells help air out the shoes and wick away moisture. Science Advances talks about both of these in a bit more detail.
You said its living, do I need to feed it?
When most people think of something living, they think that it needs to be fed to survive. Well, researches at MIT say that these moisture-sensitive cells require no additional elements to respond to humidity. The special used they are using are super safe, so safe they are even edible. With the massive advances that science has made in the past few years, it means these microbial cells can be prepared quickly and in huge quantities.
Is that all they can do?
No, that is just the tip of the iceberg. Engineers have already began to experiment with these cells and to figure out what else they can do. They made microbial cells who, not only open up in response to humidity, but also light up in response to humid conditions.
“We can combine our cells with genetic tools to introduce other functionalities into these living cells,” says Wen Wang, the paper’s lead author and a former research scientist in MIT’s Media Lab and Department of Chemical Engineering. “We use fluorescence as an example, and this can let people know you are running in the dark. In the future we can combine odour-releasing functionalities through genetic engineering. So maybe after going to the gym, the shirt can release a nice-smelling odour.”
Shape-shifters are a real thing
When looking at nature, biologists observed that living things and their component structures can change their structures or volumes when there is a change in humidity. The team at MIT hypothesized that natural shape shifters such as yeast, bacteria and other microbial cells might be used as building blocks to construct moisture responsive fabrics.
“These cells are so strong that they can induce bending of the substrate they are coated on,” Wang says.
The team started work with a non-pathogenic strain of E. coli, which is found to swell and shrink with regards to changes in humidity. After printing parallel line of E.coli cells onto sheets of latex, they exposed the fabric to various moisture conditions.
When placed over a hot plate the cells began to shrink, causing the cells to curl up. The researchers then exposed the cells to steam and observed that the steam caused the cells to grow. This expanded the latex and caused it to flatten out. After 100 of these dry/wet cycles no degradation in the cells were found.
Bye bye sweat
The MIT Science guys then worked this bio fabric (the latex and microbial cells) into a wearable garment. They designed a running suit which contained these cell-lined latex flaps dotted across the suits back. They looked at previous research of where the body produced the most heat and sweat and adjusted the size and degree of opening of each flap based on this.
“People may think heat and sweat are the same, but in fact, some areas like the lower spine produce lots of sweat but not much heat,” Yao says. “We redesigned the garment using a fusion of heat and sweat maps to, for example, make flaps bigger where the body generates more heat.”
The popped the suit on various study participants and got them to work out on the treadmill and bicycles. Researches fitted the participants with small sensors, positioned across their back to measure temperature and humidity.
After five minutes of exercise, the flaps started to open up, right around the time the participants reported feeling warm and sweaty. The sensors showed that the suit effectively removed sweat from the body and lowered skin temperature, more that when participants wore similar running suits without the flaps.
Although this is the cutting edge I still think it looks rather alien like. Not sure I would wear it when running. What do you think? Would you wear it? Tell us in the comment below.
How to get fit – Microbial cells