The MIT Media Lab’s Tangible Media Group has teamed up with New Balance and The Royal College of Art to create breathable clothing made of living cells. Called Second Skin, the beautifully designed clothing looks like something a super hero would wear, featuring special flaps that curl open as sweat and humidity increase. 

The key to creating the humidity-sensitive clothes, according to WIRED, is a special bacterium, called Bacillus subtilis natto, which expands and contracts depending on humidity levels. WIRED explains, “The more humidity present, the bigger the bacteria get (the size of an individual cell can change up to 50 percent).” By printing the natto cells onto a biofilm, then printing that biofilm onto spandex fabric in different patterns, scientists can control exactly how the fabric will behave when exposed to humidity. Printing the biofilm uniformly, for instance, makes the fabric curl, while printing it in lines causes it to bend sharply.

The team of scientists and designers have dubbed their project Biologic, and are interested in finding new ways to incorporate living cells into everyday clothing. “With biology you can start to imagine functions that aren’t available for electronics,” Lining Yao of MIT told WIRED. She imagines a future in which “programmable matter” is incorporated into fabric to create anything from glowing, bioluminescent clothes, to pollution-eating clothing that consumes dirty air. 

Banner Image Credit: Tangible Media Group, Vimeo

[h/t WIRED]