You might be able to repair your ripped jeans one day just be adding water, thanks to a breakthrough from Penn State researchers. Based on its earlier research on self-healing plastics, the team turned squid teeth proteins (yep) into a liquid form using yeast and bacteria, then used it to coat cotton, wool and other fabrics. If the material is torn, you just need to put the edges together, apply warm water and it magically "heals," as flexible and strong as before -- even after being laundered.
"Fashion designers use natural fibers made of proteins like wool or silk that are expensive and they are not self-healing," said Penn State Professor Melik C. Demirel. "We were looking for a way to make fabrics self-healing using conventional textiles. So we came up with this coating technology."
The proteins can be used to fix regular, non-coated fabrics by adding water, or applied to threads before the material is even made. The technique isn't perfect -- there are visible seams -- but it's still better, stronger and easier than any sew job I'd attempt. As the garments can be self-healed by water, throwing them in the wash would also fix small tears or other defects.
It sounds great for klutzy clothes owners, but the research, supported by the US Army and Navy research arms, isn't just aimed at consumers. Dermirel thinks the substance could be adapted to create clothing that protects soldiers, farmers or industrial workers by neutralizing toxic chemicals. "If you need to use enzymes for biological or chemical effects, you can have an encapsulated enzyme with self-healing properties degrade the toxin before it reaches the skin," he said. By adding anti-bacterial properties, it could also be used in medical dressings or mesh clothing to reduce infection risks.
The team now needs to figure out how to create the proteins without using actual squid or their teeth, and plans to further torture-test the repaired materials. "The next step would be to see if clothes can self-repair when we pour the liquid into a washing machine, like you would a detergent, and apply water and heat," Demirel tells CNN.