Functional fabrics also known as “smart textiles” include coatings or secondary materials with properties such as colour changing or generating electricity with movement. The challenge is that anything added to a fabric can get washed or worn away. A team of researchers from Israel, Germany, and Austria lead by Filipe Natalio, Ph.D. at the Weizmann Institute of Science, claim they use sugar molecules to sneak new properties into cotton like a Trojan horse.
According their study they build the functionality directly into a Upland Cotton (Gossypium hirsutum), incubated with 6-carboxyfluorescein–glucose and dysprosium–1,4,7,10-tetraazacyclododecane-1,4,7,10-tetraacetic acid–glucose, where the glucose moiety acts as a carrier capable of traveling from the vascular connection to the outermost cell layer of the ovule epidermis, becoming incorporated into the cellulose fibers. This yields fibers with unnatural properties such as fluorescence or magnetism. Combining biological systems with the appropriate molecular design offers numerous possibilities to grow functional composite materials and implements a material-farming concept.
Following the publication there was doubt from some cotton experts about the central claim of the study. The problem is that the authors “remain vague as to what they mean by ‘incorporation'” said Deborah Delmer, Ph.D. a professor emeritus of plant biology at the University of California.
Science or Fiction – not only the cotton community is waiting for the experts evaluation.