For the Biodesign Challenge students from top universities around the world spend the semester envisioning how cells, microbes, and other living things can remake the products and processes of our made world. At Rutgers this past semester students authored projects that focused on water, food, materials, energy, medicine, and others areas where biological design could make a dramatic difference. At the end of the course the students came up with 4 group projects. The projects are below. The winning team from Rutgers will gather the Museum of Modern Art in New York City in June to show their design to leaders from the academic, industrial, art, and design communities. Which project below do you think should go to MOMA?

Group 1:  Mite Be Poppy Seeds

Group 1 in the Biodesign Challenge class at Rutgers University decided to focus on food systems in Camden NJ. Camden is a city of 70,000 residents, but it only has one supermarket that sells fresh produce. While many of the residents in Camden grow their own fruits and vegetables, protein production is difficult to accommodate in an urban setting. 

So this project proposes to domestically farm flour beetles. Flour beetles are those tiny black bugs that can be found in sacks of flour when the milled grain has been left on the shelf for too long. Flour Beetles are able to use industrial grain supplies as a habitat because thier eggs are so small that they are able to survive the milling process unharmed.

Titled Mite Be Poppy Seeds, this project aims to support the production of domestically grown flour beetles by augmenting commercially produced flour with fully grown beetle colonies. The group is currently identifying best practices for farming colonies of flour beetles in your kitchen cupboard. They are also growing live beetles in order to determine the amount of protein that this versatile life form can produce. 

Group 2: The  Monsanto’s Guide to Backyard Farming

While studying inner-city food systems in Camden NJ, Group 2 in the Biodesign Challenge class at Rutgers University, Group 2 became interested in the claims that GMOs are more ecologically viable than non-GMO crops. This research has lead to the “Monsanto’s Guide to Backyard Farming,” This a facetious though genuine report, details the ways that GMOs might be able to support inner city food systems.

The group is specifically interested to see if the use of GMO wheat seeds from Monsanto (now part of the German corporation Bayer) might lead to greater crop production in a community garden context. This has lead to an Undergraduate Research Grant aimed at growing 8 square feet of GMO wheat from Monsanto along side 8 square feet of organically grown, high yield vegetables in the LABitat Gallery courtyard at RU-C in 2020.

Group 3: My Goldfish in Trenton

Group 3 from the Biodesign Challenge Class at Rutgers University decided to focus on ways to address, augment and/or support urban ecosystems. Their final project is titled My Goldfish in Trenton. Utilizing only items found in a domestic environment, this work is designed to support a life form living in a potentially hostile environment.

This effort has resulted in a working multipart water filter made from gravel, plastic water bottles, charcoal, sand and bacteria. Currently on view in the LABitat Gallery at RU-C, it’s treating tap water from the municipal water system in Camden in order to keep a beta fish alive.


Geobacter sulfurreducens

Large  amount of uranium was mined on and near the Navajo Reservation in the Southwest, and these were developed through the 20th century.  environmental regulation prior was not invented. Then the founding of the Environmental Protection Agency in 1970 and passage of related laws, the mining endangered thousands of Navajo workers, as well as producing contamination that has persisted in adversely affecting air and water quality, and contaminating Navajo lands.

Private companies hired thousands of Navajo men to work the uranium mines. Disregarding the known health risks of exposure to uranium  companies that hired the natives did not inform the Navajo workers about the dangers and to regulate the mining to minimize contamination. Little has been done about this issues even till this day.