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Dyeing clothes with genetically engineered bacteria

The British company Colorfix developed a method to genetically engineer bacteria to produce certain colour making enzymes.

More than a hundred billion articles of clothing are made every year, which are mostly dyed with synthetic, toxic dyes. In addition to pollution caused by the dying process, the dyeing industry is also one of the largest water consumers in the world.

Colordye aims to offer a solution that cuts out the use of harsh chemistry. They make use of natural pigments, produced by genetically engineered bacteria. Firstly, they find a colour created by an organism in nature, whether it is an animal, plant or microbe. Using online DNA sequencing, they pinpoint the genes that lead to the production of the pigment. This is then translated in the DNA of bacteria they use, which produces the pigment in the right colour.

Colorfix then ships the engineered microorganisms to their clients, who can grow the colour via fermentation in a similar way as beer is brewed. The bacteria live on renewable feedstocks like sugar, yeast and plant-byproducts. The microorganisms divide every 20 minutes, resulting in a large quantity of colourful dye liquor within just one or two days. This is then placed directly into standard dye machines, requiring no additional specialist equipment or toxic chemicals.

In conventional dyes, harsh chemicals, heavy metals and salts are used to fix the colour in the textile fibre. Colorfix’ microorganisms on the other hand concentrate the nutrient salts and metals present in the water to levels that facilitate the fixation of the dye without any additives.

Photos: Colorfix