European scientists have developed what they claim is a new and environmentally friendly way to produce textile dyes using enzymes from fungi.

As part of the EU-funded SOPHIED project led by the Catholic University of Louvain in Belgium, researchers extracted enzymes from fungi which are then used to create eco-dyes for textiles and leather.

Combining the enzymes with nano-sized silica particles stabilises the enzyme and eliminates proteins in the final dye product. The new colorants adhere directly to the fibres of polyamide, wool or silk, making it unnecessary to add extra chemicals that can pollute water and provoke allergies.

One of the main advantages of traditional dyes is that they resist washing, mechanical abrasion and bleaching by sunlight.

First tests on the new eco-dyes show that the colours only start fading in sunlight – so researchers suggest they should initially be used for dyeing clothes that have a limited exposure to sunlight, such as underwear and socks.