Biohybrids: textile fibres provide scaffolds and highways for microbial translocation

Angela Sherry*, Bruna Martins Dell' Agnese, Jane Scott*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Citations (Scopus)
24 Downloads (Pure)


Introduction: Living materials (biohybrids, textile-microbial hybrids, hybrid living materials) have gained much attention in recent years with enormous potential for applications in biomedical science, the built environment, construction and architecture, drug delivery and as environmental biosensors. Living materials contain matrices which incorporate microorganisms or biomolecules as the bioactive components. A cross-disciplinary approach, operating at the intersection of creative practice and scientific research, incorporated textile technology and microbiology to demonstrate textile fibres providing microbial scaffolds and highways during this study. Methods: The study evolved from previous research which showed bacteria utilising the water layer surrounding fungal mycelium for motility, termed the 'fungal highway', which led to the investigation of the directional dispersal of microbes across a range of fibre types (natural and synthetic). The application of the study centred around the potential for biohybrids to be used as a biotechnology to improve oil bioremediation through seeding of hydrocarbon-degrading microbes into polluted environments via fungal or fibre highways, therefore treatments in the presence of crude oil were tested. Furthermore, from a design perspective, textiles have huge potential to act as a conduit for water and nutrients, essential to sustain microorganisms within living materials. Using the moisture absorption properties of natural fibres, the research explored how to engineer variable liquid absorption rates using cellulosics and wool to produce shape-changing knitted fabrics suitable for adaptation to oil spill capture. Results: At a cellular scale, confocal microscopy provided evidence to show that bacteria were able to utilise a water layer surrounding the fibres, supporting the hypothesis that fibres can aid bacterial translocation through their use as 'fibre highways'. A motile bacterial culture, Pseudomonas putida, was shown to translocate around a liquid layer surrounding polyester, nylon, and linen fibres, yet no evidence of translocation was apparent on silk or wool fibres, suggesting microbes elicit different responses to specific fibre types. Findings showed that translocation activity around highways did not diminish in the presence of crude oil, known to contain an abundance of toxic compounds, in comparison to oil-free controls. A design series demonstrated the growth of fungal mycelium ( Pleurotus ostreatus) through knitted structures, highlighting the ability for natural fabrics to provide a scaffold to support microbial communities whilst retaining the ability to undergo environmentally responsive shape-change. A final prototype, Ebb&Flow, demonstrated the potential to scale up the responsive capacities of the material system using locally produced UK wool. The prototype conceptualised both the uptake of a hydrocarbon pollutant by fibres, and the translocation of microbes along fibre highways. Discussion: The research works towards facilitating the translation of fundamental science and design into biotechnological solutions that can be used in real world applications.

Original languageEnglish
Article number1188965
JournalFrontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology
Publication statusPublished - 13 Jun 2023

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