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Self-Healing Fabrics Made with Squid Genes Could Save Environment

Self-healing fabrics made with squid genes? One Philadelphia firm is trying to make that the future of fashion.

Turns out, squid are pretty incredible creatures. The teeth-ringed structures that line the suction cups of each tentacle contain a protein that helps the chompers repair themselves when broken. 

By leveraging these properties, Tandem Repeat, a company led by biomedical engineer Gözde Şenel-Ayaz, is able to synthesize a biodegradable, recyclable thermoplastic that can do the same for rips and tears.

“Worn-out and damaged clothes are often just thrown away, instead of being repaired,” said the H&M Foundation’s Global Change Award, which presented Tandem Repeat with the Early Bird prize in March. “This leads to enormous amounts of textile waste. What if your T-shirt or jacket instead could repair itself and extend its life cycle?”

Extending the life of a clothing item by just three months could lead to a 5 percent to 10 percent reduction in its carbon, water and waste footprints, according to the Waste and Resources Action Programme (WRAP), a resource-efficiency nonprofit in the United Kingdom.

Tandem Repeat’s material is durable and elastic enough to be molded, woven or processed into a liquid, powder or fiber, the company said, noting that its material production uses half as much energy as conventional synthetic fibers.

Besides serving as an “excellent alternative” to fibers such as spandex, the thermoplastic can also be applied as a coating to protect other materials from wear and tear or as a type of glue to curb the release of microfibers—and therefore microplastic pollution—during laundry.

“This allows creating products with longer life cycles and minimizes environmental pollution,” Tandem Repeat wrote on its website.

The firm is currently working to scale its technology, reduce the cost of production and “reach out to the textile industry with their innovation,” it said.

Tandem Repeat is one of seven finalists of the Tommy Hilfiger Social Innovation Challenge, the winners of which will be announced in January. Awardees will receive a year-long mentorship with Tommy Hilfiger’s internal experts globally, a grant of up to 100,000 euro ($116,000) and a spot in the INSEAD Social Entrepreneurship Program.