Making beautiful colours without toxic chemicals

Making beautiful colours without toxic chemicals

The early Levis used dyes derived from plants If there’s one thing you can count on finding in anybody’s wardrobe, it’s a pair of jeans – and the chances are those jeans will be blue. The original work trousers, invented by Jacob Davis and Levi Strauss in 1873, were dyed with indigo derived from plants. By 1882, however, indigo was being synthesised, and producing denim blue now involves large quantities of petroleum, as well as toxic substances such as formaldehyde and cyanide. Meanwhile, because indigo isn’t water soluble, more toxic chemicals – corrosive to workers and deadly to marine life – need to be added to turn it into a liquid dye. But San Francisco biotech firm Tinctorium believes it has the answer: genetically engineering bacteria to mirror the way the Japanese indigo plant, Polygonum Tinctorium, makes and holds its colour. Tinctorium chief executive Michelle Zhu “Because bacteria are powerful multipliers, when you put them in the right conditions, we can grow these organisms to create dye product in a much more scalable and sustainable manner that isn’t reliant on petroleum,” says co-founder and chief executive Michelle Zhu. The company is already producing yarn and is working to make […]

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