Article and Link:
Hello, Little Microbe. Doesn’t This Jacket Look Yummy?
Now we can trick tiny bugs into eating our clothing. Consumption is finally a good thing.
By Vanessa Friedman in The New York Times on April 22, 2019
Image Credit: Photo Illustration by Tracy Ma/The New York Times; Courtesy of PrimaLoft (jacket).
While this article was in the fashion section of The New York Times, it concerned the modification of clothing by attaching microbe-attracting sugars to polyester fibers used in clothing. This would allow the expedited degradation of fabrics by producing a new niche for microbes, both in landfill and marine environments.
In lecture, we have discussed microbe niches, and microbial carbon sources.
This was not a scientific article by any means, but did contain accurate information about microbial preference for less-synthetic carbon sources. While the authors report that the textile company it interviewed would not reveal “proprietary processes” for how polyester fibers would be modified, they did mention that testing of the modified fibers was being conducted over several years, and in both marine and landfill environments. For a non-science article, I thought it did a great job of identifying a problem (the massive amount of clothing taking decades to degrade), identifying a scientific solution (speeding up bio-degradation) and explaining just enough about the solution (microbes!) to make it approachable for the average fashion-section reader. I would have liked a link or reference, but like any science-minded person, I have enough to go on to look into it further. It was beyond the scope of this publication to consider concerns such as biofilms or the potential for increased infections from wearing microbe-attracting clothing. I’m sure these considerations will be investigated as these fibers move into the mainstream.
One field which has very close ties to microbiology is forensics. The microbial effects on evidence in various environments is a crucial aspect of these studies. How will a new generation of clothing with different bio-degradation rates affect this field?
Ueland, M. et al. (2017). Degradation patterns of natural and synthetic textiles on a soil surface during summer and winter seasons studied using ATR-FTIR spectroscopy. Spectrochimica Acta Part A: Molecular and Biomolecular Spectroscopy, 185. doi: 10.1016/j.saa.2017.05.044.