The material could be grafted onto prosthetic limbs to restore temperature sensing in amputees.
It could also be applied to first-aid bandages to alert health professionals of a temperature increase – a sign of infection – in wounds.
While fabricating synthetic woods in a petri dish, a team led by California Institute of Technology’s Chiara Daraio created a material that exhibited an electrical response to temperature changes in the laboratory.
It turned out that the component responsible for the temperature sensitivity was pectin, a long-chain molecule present in plant cell walls.
“Pectin is widely used in the food industry as a jellifying agent; it’s what you use to make jam. So it’s easy to obtain and also very cheap,” said Daraio.