This Smart Teen Invented Color-Changing Sutures to Detect Infection

Dasia Taylor’s genius invention has the potential to save many lives.

Apr 12, 2021
Special Collections: INSPIRE THE GOOD


This Smart Teen Invented Color-Changing Sutures to Detect Infection | Dasia Taylor’s genius invention has the potential to save many lives.

A bright, charismatic and caring 17-year-old teenager from Iowa, USA, has invented a revolutionary new type of suture that changes color if surgical wounds become infected. This feature can alert doctors and help prevent fatal infections.

Her goal was to help women in developing nations who are disproportionately affected by surgical site infections, specifically Cesarean sections.

And what’s this high school senior’s secret ingredient? The humble beet! Dasia Taylor had read about “smart sutures” that use technology to detect wound infection and that can sync to smartphones. But she was on the lookout for a naturally-occurring substance as an alternative to expensive technology, one that could flag infection due to pH changes.

Ms. Taylor used the juice of around three dozen beets to dye assorted suture materials. She found that a polyester and cotton thread had the best mix of thickness, absorbency and noticeable darkening of color when exposed to solutions with a higher pH level that indicates infection.

The average pH level of healthy skin is five, but when a wound is infected the level can go up to about nine, according to a study from the National Library of Medicine. Ms. Taylor was pleased to confirm that beets change color to reflect these pH changes at the very same point as human skin.

This standout science student then replicated her results using the optimal thread in the form of sutures that she stitched on an artificial skin pad and exposed to various pH solutions. This was all part of her Regeneron Science Talent Search medicine and health project.

Ms. Taylor’s wish to help mankind and specifically the disadvantaged, moved her from the start. This inspiring high schooler told Smithsonian that when she was given the opportunity to conduct research, she "couldn't help but look at it through an equity lens."

She expanded on this community perspective when discussing her thinking with The Washington Post: “I consistently classified my project as where equity meets science. When you’re doing research like this, you have to think about the lives you’re going to impact… you have to make sure the people you’re affecting, they will be able to have access to it.”

This stellar invention won Ms. Taylor the Iowa State science fair and a place as a finalist in the National Regeneron Science Talent Search competition organized by the Society for Science.

Going forward, Ms. Taylor wants to patent her new beet-infused sutures so they can eventually be used in healthcare globally. And she is always learning, spurred on by feedback from science competition judges, her teacher mentors, and her natural intellectual curiosity and grit.

She is now working, for instance, on maintaining sterile practice techniques with the help of a microbiologist from the University of Iowa, as beets have reported antibacterial properties

As this motivated teen explained to Smithsonian: "When I’m fascinated with a venture of some sort, I have to follow it to its logical conclusion, no ifs, ands or buts.”

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Daphne has a background in editing, writing and global trends. She is inspired by trends seeing more people care about sharing and protecting resources, enjoying experiences over products and celebrating their unique selves. Making the world a better place has been a constant motivation in her work.
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