Consider the range of medical and health aspects of gross and targeted body temperature. Tracking body temperature has implications for fertility and pregnancy, fever, anxiety and stress, cardiac arrest patients, hypothermia and hyperthermia, alcohol or drug use or reaction, shock, diabetes, thyroid problems, infections, and more. The list goes on and on. Today many companies in the health tech space develop devices to measure, monitor, and report basal body temperature. What if hospital garments or pajamas reacted to changes in body temperature and either indicated or transmitted the information?

Biologic, a team at MIT’s Media Lab, is using natto cells to create sweat and humidity-responsive “second skin” garments. The natto bacteria are found in dry rice stalks; the researchers isolate them and then micro-print them on responsive fabrics. When the body heats and sweats, the bio-skin reacts by opening flaps in the material, allowing the sweat to evaporate and cool the body. The project is a collaboration with the MIT Department of Chemical Engineering, the Royal College of Art, and New Balance.

Clearly, the first applications of Biologic’s bioactive material will be in sports and fitness. When you consider the implications for wellness and for medicine, however, it’s not a great leap to suppose this enabling technology could start to show up in hospital patient apparel. Since the “second skin” material needs to be close to the skin, one immediate benefit could be doing away with the hospital johnny and its inevitable backside gap.