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Kombucha Tea-inspired Smart 'living Materials' Can Sense Environmental Pollutants

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Imperial College London have designed "smart living materials" inspired by kombucha tea.

Kombucha Tea

Researchers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Imperial College London have designed "smart living materials" that can help purify water, and also detect and alert damages on the packaging. The materials, known as engineered living materials (ELMs), are made using a mixture called a SCOBY (symbiotic culture of bacteria and yeast), which is used to brew kombucha tea. The materials can also act as "living photographs" as they can display pictures and texts projected onto them. 

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"We foresee a future where diverse materials could be grown at home or in local production facilities, using biology rather than resource-intensive centralized manufacturing," Timothy Lu, an MIT associate professor of electrical engineering and computer science and of biological engineering, said in a statement.

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Can sense & break down pollutants

Timothy Lu was part of a similar project years ago, where they had designed biofilms using E. coli and hed embedded it on materials such as gold nanowires. However, the materials couldn't be used in large-scale applications. But now, Lu and Tom Ellis, a professor of bioengineering at Imperial College London, have created materials using microbes similar to kombucha SCOBY. 

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The materials can also be used to sense pollutants in the environment and they can be programmed to break down those pollutants. The materials are very cheap and easy to make in large quantities, said one of the researchers who helped create ELMs. Researchers claim that people will be also to make their own biological sensors in the future. The research was funded by the US Army Research Office, MIT, and Imperial College London. 

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