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Iowa teenager invents color-changing sutures that could curb infection rates

Dasia Taylor hasn’t graduated high school yet, but has already come up with an invention that addresses a global problem: surgical wound infection.

Taylor, 17, of Iowa City invented a suture that shifts in color from bright red to dark purple when a surgical wound becomes infected. She started working on the project in October 2019, after learning that the World Health Organization found in low- and middle-income countries, 11 percent of surgical wounds develop an infection. She was especially concerned after hearing that in some African countries, up to 20 percent of women who have Cesarean sections end up with infections.

“When I was presented with this opportunity to do research, I couldn’t help but go at it with an equity lens,” Taylor told Smithsonian Magazine. Healthy human skin has a pH level of around five, and the pH goes up to about nine when an infection is present. Taylor found that beet juice goes from red to dark purple at a pH of nine, so “that’s perfect for an infected wound.” She then began testing threads to find one that could properly hold the dye, and found a cotton-polyester blend that worked.

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Taylor plans on getting a patent for her invention, and hopes that one day, the sutures can be dispatched around the world, so people can quickly receive medical attention for infections. Earlier this year, Taylor was named one of 40 finalists in the prestigious Regeneron Science Talent Search. Maya Ajmera is president and CEO of the Society for Science, which runs the competition, and Ajmera told Smithsonian she is “really interested in watching what problems [Taylor] is going to continue to solve, to make the world a better place.”