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article imageSelf-ventilating workout suit keeps athletes cool and dry

By Tim Sandle     May 24, 2017 in Technology
A breathable workout suit that has ventilating flaps, able to open and close in response to an athlete's body heat has been invented by Massachusetts Institute of Technology researchers.
The new suit is innovative: a breathable costume that has ventilating flaps, ranging from thumbnail- to finger-sized, contain viable microbial cells which shrink and expand in response to changes in humidity. This biological solution helps deal with sweat and to further cool down the athlete.
Adding microorganisms to fabrics may seem like a strange thing to do but there's a scientific basis to this. The researchers found that moisture-sensitive cells require no add-on technology to sense and respond to humidity (which helps to keep the weight of the suit close to that of normal gym wear). The microbial cells change their structures and volumes in response to a change in humidity. This process allows the organisms to absorb the sweat produced when a person wearing the suit works out.
The bacterium selected is also safe for people to come into contact with (the organism is a nonpathogenic strain of Escherichia coli); and they can be produced rapidly using biotechnological methods. Advances in genetic engineering allow the bacteria to express multiple functionalities for the responses to different levels of moisture. For a future step the researchers aim to create pleasant odor-releasing bacteria through genetic engineering, which could mean people leaving the gym smelling sweeter than when they arrived.
The suit is designed through 3D printing, using a process that enables E. coli to be printed onto sheets of rough, natural latex. To test out the fabric, the cloth was exposed to 100 such dry/wet cycles with no loss of functionality reported. The biofabric was then fashioned into items of clothing and tested out by athletes. For the next steps the researchers aim to collaborate with sportswear companies to commercialize their designs and to create a range of sports wear.
The new suit is described in the journal Science Advances, in a research paper titled "Harnessing the hygroscopic and biofluorescent behaviors of genetically tractable microbial cells to design biohybrid wearables."
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