Team #GROWAPAIR Present at Biodesign Challenge Summit

Team #GROWAPAIR, which literally “grew” a pair of baby shoes from microbial cellulose, mycelium, and pineapple, represented FIT at the Biodesign Challenge Summit, being held at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) on June 22 and 23. FIT team Bioesters (now continuing their work under the name AlgiKnit) won the competition last year.

The baby shoes created by the team used natural dyes and a Native American brain-tanning process—a technique that uses an emulsified solution of animal brain and water to lend absorbency to animal hides—along with a smoking technique to soften the material, increase its flexibility, and add natural flame-retardant properties and water resistance. The shoes, developed with the goal of “translating a living material into a textile,” were finished with an all-natural coating of beeswax, jojoba oil, and pine resin, and are fully biodegradable. The process can be adapted for a DIY kit that people could potentially use at home to grow their own shoes.

The Biodesign Challenge, a program of Genspace, is a university competition that encourages college students to envision new ways to harness living systems and biotechnology for future applications. Its goals are threefold: to prepare young artists and designers to work with emerging biotech; to build collaborations between artists, designers, and biologists; and to engage the public with visions for the future applications of biotechnology.


Team #GROWAPAIR—comprising Danielle Esposito (left) and Dylon Shepelsky (center), both Textile Development and Marketing majors, and Arianna Wong (right), a Fashion Business Management major—was chosen by a panel of judges from among four FIT teams to compete against 22 universities from seven countries around the world.

The other FIT team projects were:

  • Jellyfish Cuir: used enzymatic extraction of collagen from overpopulations of jellyfish for use as an alternative biomaterial, such as non-mammalian leather or biodegradable fishing line.
  • The Bioessence Bodysuit: explored wearable delivery systems of essential oil and medicinal plants to relieve symptoms of serious diseases, such as cancer. Modeling the delivery system around the human lymphatic system, the team aimed to create a wearable bodysuit that can alleviate physical and emotional symptoms associated with cancer in a targeted way.
  • Sanit-Airy: concept for a methane air filter textile/collection system to capture methane from existing processing, such as landfill collection, cow feeds, tanks or lagoons. The system would trap escaping methane with the assistance of fans to corral the gas toward the textile, and explore materials that can absorb and controllably desorb methane for use as fuel; the captured material is a potential clean energy source.

Having won the internal FIT competition, Team #GROWAPAIR showcased its project at MoMA to an audience of 200 curators, artists, designers, and scientists. They competed for prizes, including the Glass Microbe, an artwork produced by U.K. artist Luke Jerram that symbolizes the intersection of art, design, and biology.

“These finalists were selected from a pool of 400 participants. Their projects will be seen by thousands of people around the world,” said Daniel Grushkin, founder of the Biodesign Challenge and executive director of Genspace. “I firmly believe that they are leading us into a sustainable future with their visions.”

The projects will also be on display through June 25 at a gallery show at the School of Visual Arts in New York City.


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