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Indigo: from medieval biotechnology to denim jeans – University of Reading

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Indigo: from medieval biotechnology to denim jeans

Release Date 15 February 2005

jeans on a clothes lineIndigo is the world's oldest and only natural blue dye with an exotic past extending back to prehistoric times. The penultimate talk in the 2004/2005 University Public Lecture Series sees Professor Philip John exploring the history and processes used in the production of natural indigo. With Professor John's expertise and experience in this important area, the audience at the University's Palmer Lecture Theatre are set for another fascinating evening. "In the Middle Ages, indigo production from woad made the fortunes of many European farmers and merchants," he says. "Later the East India Companies brought tropical indigo to Europe. In the beginning of the 20th century synthetic indigo drove natural indigo production to commercial extinction. The synthetic product now supplies the 80,000 tonnes of indigo used every year to dye blue denim. "Indigo production from woad was a medieval biotechnology about which virtually nothing was known when we set out to discover its scientific basis. We used the techniques described in medieval manuscripts to reproduce the process, and found out what was happening at each stage in chemical and microbiological terms." A graduate of King's College London, Philip John is Professor of Plant Biochemistry in the School of Plant Sciences, which he headed from 1996-2001. He has carried out research and teaching at the Universities of California, Berkeley and Oxford. "In the last four years I have coordinated SPINDIGO, a multinational £2.3 million EC-funded R & D Project to re-introduce indigo crops into European agriculture. This project provides farmers with the technology and agronomic advice to supply once again the natural indigo that the fashion and textile industries are demanding." The lecture will be chaired by Dr Michael Shaw, a Reader in Plant Disease Epidemiology in the School of Plant Sciences. All of the University's Public Lectures are free to attend and no ticket is required. For further information, please visit the following website: or contact Alison Fabian in the University's Communications Office on (tel) 0118 378 7110 or (email) Event Public Lecture – Indigo: from medieval biotechnology to denim jeans Location Palmer Lecture Theatre, Whiteknights Campus, The University of Reading Date Tuesday 1 March, 8pm End For media enquiries only, please contact Craig Hillsley, the University's press officer on: Tel 0118 378 7388 Email

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