Biofabricated ‘living colours’ are cheaper, non-toxic alternatives to traditional dyes

In 2015, in a laboratory in Toulouse, south of France, a team of engineers and scientists working in synthetic biology began ‘PILI’ - a start-up which has since developed a range of renewable biosynthetic dyes from bacteria. PILI’s range of dyes have the same rich vibrant pigment that traditional dyes do, yet these inks are made via fermentation, similar to how vinegar and beer are made.

PILI developed the pigments from their concern regarding the toxicity of traditional dyes used in everyday objects such as pens, clothes, makeup and building materials.The company was co-founded by French entrepreneurs Jérémie Blache, Guillaume Boissonnat, Thomas Landrain and Marie-Sarah Adenis who each share an interest in the development of recyclable and renewable products.

The team hold the belief that future materials will be governed by developments in biotechnological research and champion how microscopic systems can be cultivated to produce a variety of renewable materials. Instead of plants and animals, tiny microorganisms are used to develop the colour as they can naturally biosynthesise complex molecules with their secondary metabolism. The fermentation process allows an enzyme-catalyzation to occur where substrates are transformed into pigment.

The first material that PILI used was from soil microbiota which created a blue ink, and since, PILI has developed a range of differently coloured inks from various microorganisms taken from natural substances. PILI’s biofabricated inks are successful alternatives to the non-renewable and toxic petrochemical dyes that are usually used, and not as expensive or dependant on the weather. The dyes are cultivated to produce a variety of renewable pigments at an industrial scale, rivalling the speed and level of production that traditional dye companies offer. Although the inks are envisaged to be first used in newspapers, the pigment can be applied to a range of building materials including flooring, brickwork and paint.

To view more about the dyes click here

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