The Biodesign class at Rutgers produced multiple realized and speculative group projects this year. The projects that made it to the Biodesign Challenge website are below and include Mite Be Caviar (beetle-rich flour as a living protein source), ACNELLUS Pillows (a living bacteria that eats oil off your face at night), The Crab Shack Project (biomineralized houses for hermit crabs) and last but not least Plastomach: The Plastic-Eating Stomach (by virtue of living fungi).

The 2018 winning project out of Rutgers is Plastomach, a domestic farming system in the shape of a giant stomach that consumes plastic debris while producing nutrient-rich fungi. Our winning Rutgers students will present this realized design at NY MOMA on 6/21 as part of the Biodesign Challenge, an internationally juried competition presented by Gen Space. The project will also be showcased for the public in the exhibit NATURE/POSTNATURE at Parsons School of Design, June 21st, 7:00 to 9:00PM: 

Support our team and please join us in NYC for this amazing, free, event: 

And check out all the amazing student project work form Rutgers below. Cheers and my the force of biology be with you!

Prof. Demaray

Plastomach: The Plastic-Eating Stomach
(by virtue of living fungi)

Materials: Sculptural stomach that degrades plastic by virtue of living fungi, 201

Plastomach is a domestic farming system that consumes plastic debris while producing nutrient-rich fungi for human consumption.

Our civilization discards copious amounts of plastic, which then contaminates our land, rivers, coasts, and beaches. According to the Santa Aguila Foundation, in 2018 alone, eight million metric tons of plastic waste will make its way into our oceans, where it may become microparticles that can enter and poison our food chain. Plastomach proposes that we should view this waste product as a viable resource and that every home should have a sculptural stomach that can digest this debris and turn it into a food source for eco-supporting fungi.

The Plastomach system is based on fungi studies from Rutgers University that show that week old pearl oyster, blue oyster, shiitake, reishiand turkey tail fungi can digest a spectrum of plastic materials in agar and/or sawdust under aseptic conditions. These fungi studies have also shown that different types of fungi are able to biodegrade different types of hydrocarbon plastics at different rates. The Plastomach system shown above uses one- and two-year-old pearl oyster fungi to digest low and high density polyethylene. Older fungi is used in this system so that aseptic conditions are not necessary. Due the the fact that older fungi is more robust, it is better able to compete with the other forms of fungi and bacteria found in a domestic space.

In the lab, the Plastomach fungi types can digested around 1% of hydrocarbon plastics debris present in the system, every three months. Given these calculations, this project suggests that the annual rate of plastic use in each household should equal only the amount that their own Plastomach stomach can digest in one year. With this conscious utilization, we could conceivably cut our domestic plastic waste stream to zero, while producing nutritious fungi for eco-system health. This is why our slogan is: “Plastomach: eating what you can’t for a healthier planet.” Or, “Plastomach, home is where the plastic consuming domestic fungi is!”  Check out the project video at:


Mite be Caviar: Mite- and beetle-rich flour that’s a living food source in your cupboard!

This project proposes living flour beetle and mite colonies as a viable source of refrigeration-free, home-sourced, protein-rich food.

MightyMite Flour

As world populations grow, raising livestock for slaughter is an unsustainable and inhumane way of sourcing protein. As an alternative, the Mite be Caviar project recommends utilizing the ability of flour mites and beetles to live in processed grain supplies. This naturally occurring, self-contained food source may be the answer to feeding nine billion hungry humans.

In pantries across the country, flour and beetle mite infestations have been viewed as contaminants that must be eradicated. But what if we could, instead, view these “pests” as symbiotic life forms? Entomophagy (insect eating) is rapidly gaining a following. Containing more protein than meat and utilizing 300 times fewer natural resources than livestock, bugs are a great source of nutrition. Many insect species have also evolved in tandem with humans and require little special care to thrive. Flour mites and beetles, which live in grain supplies, lay very small eggs that can survive the milling process. These nascent life forms end up in flour sacks and flourish in ideal conditions.

The benefits of Mite be Caviar are many. Starving populations and people in food deserts would have a new nutritious food source. Bodybuilders would have a way of decreasing their carbohydrate consumption while increasing their protein intake. Finally, reducing our reliance on meat would improve the environment. The slogan for this project is “Mite be Caviar … Those aren’t poppy seeds in that muffin!”

This slogan is clever, but it might put non-bug-eaters off. Try to find something that emphasizes the positive aspects of your product. (Would vegetarians mind eating mites?)



ACNELLUS Pillowus: Our answer to the bacteria causing acne mechanica.

If a regular pillowcase is not washed every day, it may be the host for thousands of harmful bacteria that can cause breakouts on the face. According to Dr. David E. Bank, “Acne mechanica is any type of acne that is the result of material or objects touching your face. When your pillowcase isn’t laundered or changed regularly, a build-up of dirt and oil from the environment as well as your skin and hair touching the pillow is transferred back to your skin. This can clog pores and cause blemishes.”

Acnellus Pillowus (AP) may be the answer to this problem. Fortified with beneficial, oil-consuming bacteria, it is a revolutionary advancement in pillowcase technology. The AP pillowcase uses lipases purified from the Bacillus cereus bacterium to coat every fiber of the linen on which we rest our head. Lipases break down the fatty acids in our sebum, the oily substance produced by our sebaceous glands. Although healthy skin needs sebum to function, too much of it can lead to acne. By reducing excess sebum, Acnellus Pillowus leaves the acne-causing bacteria on our face with less to eat.

The Acnellus Pillowus process is especially effective because it uses electrospinning to distribute these beneficial lipases evenly over the AP pillowcase. Electrospinning creates very thin strands of fiber by using electric force, increasing the exposure of the lipases to your skin to achieve maximum fatty-acid breakdown. And, because the lipase coat is all the way around each strand, when the AP pillowcase is laundered, more lipases are uncovered.

Last, but not least, do you have no time to wash your face in the morning? The Acnellus Pillowus pillowcase works all night long, so you don’t have to! Possible slogan:

“Acne mechanica bumming your day? Use Acnellus Pillowus right away!”


Biomineralization: The Crab Shack Project

Purpose: To combine developments in design and 3D printing with the process of biomineralization to create environmentally friendly, sustainable, and safe synthesized shells for hermit crabs.

Problem: We are currently experiencing a “hermit crab housing crisis.” According to studies, at any given time, thirty percent of hermit crabs are without adequate shell homes. This number can increase to sixty percent during the spring when mating occurs. And, though developments in design and 3D printing have enabled the construction of synthetic hermit crab shells, their use comes at a cost. They are not biodegradable and will ultimately have a negative impact on the environment.

Solution: We wish to mimic the biomineralization process that occurs naturally in living organisms that secrete inorganic matter, such as shell, teeth, and bone, to create a synthetic Mollusk shell using Calcium Carbonate and (protein name). These shells would be safe for hermit crabs and other marine life to inhabit and their eventual biodegradation would help to reduce soil acidity.

Benefits: Developing an environmentally friendly, sustainable, and safe synthesized shell will help hermit crabs and other marine life to survive. It will also reduce plastic pollution and soil acidification. This will contribute to biodiversity, which keeps the ocean healthy.