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National Science Foundation supports Stony Creek Colors and Danforth Center collaboration

October 04, 2016

Stony Creek Colors, a manufacturer of bio-based textile dyes and the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center, a not-for-profit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science announced they have received a one-year grant of $224,676 from the National Science Foundation (NSF), Division of Industrial Innovation and Partnership (IIP) to improve the available genetic resources for plant-based indigo dye production to help make the manufacturing of blue jeans more sustainable. The collaborators will use a portion of the research funds to create a high-throughput handheld assay device capable of rapid measurements of the naturally occurring chemicals for indigo which is formed in the plant leaves.

Since the beginning of the 20th century, nearly 100% of the indigo dye used to dye yarns for denim jeans globally has been chemically synthesized from petroleum derivatives and hazardous, toxic chemicals. The Danforth Center will improve the understanding of the genetics of the existing indigo plant stocks through DNA analysis of specific high-yielding plant varieties. This research will enable Stony Creek Colors to produce an improved bio-based specialty chemical derived from the renewable, abundant plant-material of the indigo crop, Persicaria tinctoria.

"Our bio-based dyes improve profitability and ecosystem health for farmers, while empowering designers, brands, and mills with greater transparency and traceability," said Sarah Bellos, CEO and founder, Stony Creek Colors. "This allows us to innovate and scale-up natural dyes that clean up the fashion industry, tout full integrity, and contribute to a thriving future. Stony Creek Colors' research collaboration with the Danforth Center funded by this NSF grant is a critical next step in the evolution of this plant-derived chemical. Higher yielding and more consistent indigo crops will allow our bio-based colors to reach deeper into the industrial marketplace, ultimately replacing more of the petroleum based-chemicals currently imported by the textile industry with a domestically grown, plant-derived solution."

The Small Business Technology Transfer (STTR) project will map existing genetic resources while developing a unique approach for plant indican (indigo precursor) analysis which will enable non-destructive analysis of plant leaves in breeding lines.

"Genomics and non-destructive, high-throughput phenotyping are cornerstones of our research at the Danforth Center, and it's exciting to have the opportunity to use the methods we have developed to directly accelerate improvements in a sustainable indigo feedstock," said Noah Fahlgren, Ph.D. director, Bioinformatics Core, Danforth Plant Science Center, co-principal Investigator on the project. "Currently, the measurement of indigo yield is done by harvesting plants or by chemical analysis of precursors, both of which are time-consuming and difficult to do on large populations, so the ability to use non-destructive techniques to measure or estimate indigo yield will be particularly important to enable rapid screening of breeding materials."

These improvements will be commercialized through higher indigotin yielding breeders seed stock, with a goal of reaching 26,000 acres of cropland in the Southeast U.S. within six years. This will allow plant-derived indigo to be more cost-competitive with synthetic indigo dye and to meet the immediate market demand for U.S. bio-based indigo by denim mills.

Stony Creek Colors estimates by 2021, indigo will be growing on more than 26,000 acres and the demand for their natural indigo solution from denim companies like Tellason, 3x1, and Taylor Stitch, with whom they currently partner, will continue to grow as customers shop for more sustainable and natural fashion.
NSF Award Abstract #1622860
STTR Phase I: Novel Analysis Tools for Production of Higher Indican Yielding Plants for Bio-based Indigo

About Stony Creek Colors

Stony Creek's innovative, farmer-based supply chain sustainably produces naturally occurring plant based dyes with full transparency and authenticity, meeting the technical performance and volume requirements of textile mills and fashion brands worldwide without compromising product integrity. To learn more about the company please visit and follow Stony Creek Colors on twitter at @color_with_life.

About The Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

Founded in 1998, the Donald Danforth Plant Science Center is a not-for-profit research institute with a mission to improve the human condition through plant science. Research, education and outreach aim to have impact at the nexus of food security and the environment, and position the St. Louis region as a world center for plant science. The Center's work is funded through competitive grants from many sources, including the National Institutes of Health, U.S. Department of Energy, National Science Foundation, and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

To keep up to date with Danforth Center's current operations and areas of research, please visit,, featuring information on Center scientists, news, and the "Roots & Shoots" blog. Follow us on Twitter at @DanforthCenter.

Donald Danforth Plant Science Center

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