EnDurans

We are often exposed to harsh and hazardous environments in the process of exploring new frontiers and even operating and maintaining the machinery that enable us to do so. Our bodies however, have not yet evolved to resist harmful radiation. Bacteria, however, have. En-Durans is an exploration in future textiles that integrates genetically modified radiation resistant bacteria, within the layers of fabric. They detect the amount of radiation in the environment by expressing a colour reporter gene and protect the human ensconced within the fabric by acting as a shield and absorbing radiation.

EnDurans was one of 74 projects, presented at the RCA CERN Grand Challenge. It was a 4 week project to demonstrate how innovative and disruptive technologies can address the world’s most intractable challenges by combining science with design.

Team
Hyejin Lee 
Lia Raquel Marques
Zhenzhu Wang
Yibo Chen
Michal Maciejewski (CERN)
My Role
Research
Concept Design
Interaction design
Bacteria Culture
Material Exploration
Awards & Exhibition
Finalist—Health and Wellbeing (CERN RCA Grand Challenge)
Royal College of Art Work in Progress Show 2019, London
Year
2018–19 (4 weeks)

The Bacteria

Bacteria have been on this planet much longer than we have. And some of them have developed remarkable abilities and adaptations to survive the most harshest of environments.

The Micrococcus Luteus, a harmless bacteria found on our skin, in milk and cheese can withstand large doses of UVA radiation (UVA otherwise penetrates the skin and is known to cause ageing and cell damage) it creates a pigment known as Sarcinaxanthin Carotenoid which helps absorb radiation from 350-475nm wavelengths

The Deinococcus Radiodurans aka “Conan The Bacterium” found in a variety of environments, from elephant faeces to antarctic granite can withstand upto to 1000 times more ionising radiation than us. Its DNA is shattered on exposure to it, but it can repair itself in a matter of hours. Surrounded by such amazing creatures, we asked “could we literally surround ourselves with them in order to detect and protect ourselves from the harsh environment we operate in?”

The Mechanism

M. Luteus and D. Radiodurans are strains of bacteria that are naturally resistant to UV and ionising radiation respectfully. However we can develop feedback mechanisms within the bacteria to communicate their efficacy in protecting people by incorporating reporter genes in their makeup. Reporter genes are attached to existing genes, which allow the bacteria to express a colour based on the amount of radiation they absorb. The higher the amount of radiation the darker the colour gets.

The Material

The material itself is inspired from the “Aegis” the mythological shield of Zeus and Athena. Unlike a normal shield, the Aegis was believed to be a second skin made out of the hyde of a Gorgon—A mythical creature with a scaly snake like appearance. It was an object that inspired terror in all who beheld it. Today however the term Aegis has entered the english language as a symbolic means of describing the protection or patronage of a powerful, knowledgeable, or benevolent source. We explored different patterns by layering materials which would form a barrier between the person wearing the fabric, as well as act as an organic substrate for the bacteria to survive. The layers themselves would vary depending on the context of their applications

Variants and Applications

EnDurans Comes in 2 variants:

E-Lite: General purpose outdoor clothing for example, where primary protection would be from UV radiation, the fabric would incorporate layers of synthetic and organic materials. The synthetic being the under layer, the top organic layer would carry the M. Luteus.

E-HD: For more hazardous environments like within the LHC, nuclear waste sites, power plants, space flight, or even fire fighters, the fabric would be made into a full body suit, with multiple under-layers. The top layer would carry the D. Radiodurans and have under-layers of lead lining and microfiber, and other protective clothing.

Approach

Interdisciplinarity breeds interdisciplinarity. This project was an exploration in collaboration, discovery through research and experimentation. What started out as us, as a group, looking closely at our skin, we found ourselves attending workshops at the dermatology lectures at Imperial College, reading endless research in different disciplines, and reaching out to experts in microbiology, and bio-medical engineering to understand the nature of the bacteria, verify our hypotheses, and learn about culturing techniques.

Special thanks to:

Abhijit Kudva, PhD Biomaterial Engineering, KU Leuven, Belgium