How Do You Make a Less Toxic Blue Dye? Start With Red Beets

But it didn’t work.

“I’m in the business of putting things inside the cell,” he said. “But BeetBlue is not good at doing this.”

He asked Barbara Freitas-Dörr, a graduate student he works with, to try using the dye for something else.

Much to his surprise, she returned after five minutes holding a tube of blue. After further processing, the pigment was scentless and felt like powdered sugar. It successfully dyed maltodextrin, a starchy food preservative, as well as yogurt, silk, cotton and samples of human hair.

And when tested on human liver cells, retinal cells and developing zebrafish, BeetBlue passed all tests for toxicity. These results suggest BeetBlue is safe, although Dr. Bastos stressed that “hyping it can be dangerous.” More tests are needed to know if it is truly safe and whether it will last in the wash.

For now, Dr. Bastos likes the romantic notion that everyone can take their shot at making their own BeetBlue

“I want people to use it, and play with it and make it better,” he said.

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