In 1856 William Henry Perkin synthesised analine purple, the first synthetic dyestuff, and in doing so revolutionised the pigment industry.
Scientists at C-MOULD, are seeking to generate another revolution in the textile dye industry, and in doing so, to reimagine pigment production for the 21st Century. Firstly, we hope to identify non-traditional and overlooked natural sources of colour in the guise of naturally pigmented bacteria. Secondly, by applying synthetic biology to traditional sources of pigments, and by using it to tweak and subtly redirect the natural pathways for pigment synthesis, we seek to develop a unique palette of sustainable pigments. In both cases, we hope that these quasi-natural dyes, will replace the ones currently produced by expensive and unsustainable chemical processes
Here are some of our current projects:
Bacto Dyes: These unique dyes build upon the age old practice of using natural plant materials to dye fabrics. Here, however, in this 21st century craft, the sources of the natural pigments are invisible pigment factories, in the form of billions of microscopic cells of bacteria which naturally produce the coloured pigments that can be seen on the textiles.
BioMic Dyes: these exploit the trillions of bacteria that live in and on the human body to generate pigments, and thus utilize the hitherto, untapped activity of the human microbiome in this respect.
BactoIndigo: Indigo, the dye used to stain jeans blue, was traditionally extracted from plants of the genus Indigofera. Today, however, the several thousand tons of indigo used each year is synthetic and produced by large scale industrial processes with obvious consequences for the environment. This is a project which seeks to develop a sustainable form of indigo, or a replacement, using either bacteria that naturally produce blue pigments (Vogesella indigofera and Athrobacter polychromogenes) or bacteria that produce indigo itself.
Nicotine Blue: The bacterium Arthrobacter nicotinovorans converts nicotine into the blue dye, nicotine blue. This project seeks to re-purpose the tobacco industry, to produce this beautiful blue pigment rather than an addictive and dangerous drug. The final aim is to introduce the genes from the bacteria which encode nictotine conversion, into tobacco plants, so that they produce nicotine blue rather than nicotine.
Bionto Dyes: Lichens are widespread and long-lived, and have in the past been used to make dyes. However, naturally they only come in a limited number of colours. The aim of this project is to tweak the biochemistry of pigment production in Lichens so that a wider pallet of nature-derived pigments might become available.Here an orange and a grey lichen have been biochemically tweaked to produce magenta and green pigments respectively.