What is biodesign?

An air purifier made of spider webs, a toilet insert that captures estrogen and a cactus-like water harvester; these are just a few of the projects presented at the first bio-design challenge in New York City. Science Friday has the story.

TRANSCRIPT

An air purifier made of spiderwebs, a toilet insert that filters estrogen, and a cactus-like water harvester -- these are just a few of the projects presented at the first Biodesign Challenge in New York City.

'Science Friday' has the story.

'Stabilimentum' is a project that tries to bridge a new type of symbiotic relationship between humans and spiders.

So our project is called 'Liver Clear,' and it's a bacterial membrane that will reside in your toilet in order to filter out estrogen.

Our project was called 'Bioesters.'

If you've ever had seaweed salad before, there's kind of like viscous gel -- you know, extract that and kind of concentrate it.

That's what we were working with.

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We are now in a culture where everything's about the pitch.

You know, you go to an accelerator, and they have a demo day, and it's all about sell, sell, sell.

We're trying to do something very different.

We're saying, 'Think, think, think.'

The three goals of the challenge have been, one, to create a community of scientists, designers, and artists who are all collaborating together.

Goal number two has been inform the public about what the potentials of the technology might be, and, number three, hey, let's see some fresh ideas in the space of biotechnology.

Let's see what we do.

As droughts and desertification are increasing on the planet worldwide, and existing water sources are rapidly depleting, we do need to look for other sources of water, and the various members of the Opuntia Genus actually have this great ability to collect water from fog with specially designed spines.

So, what we did is took inspiration from these cacti to create synthetic panels that can basically do the same thing.

Just by, like, delving into the body of research that's out there, we found this biopolymer alginate and started experimenting with it, kept learning more and more and more, and we eventually came up with this fiber that we extruded out of a syringe and actually had some strength to it.

Fibers are kind of what make the textile industry run, and rather than, you know, growing it in forms, we can extrude it and use any existing knitting machine to fabricate the product that we're looking to make.

There's a type of spider fiber that has a glue component to it, and it's been identified that that glue not only catches prey, but it also catches microparticles and pollen and other things that are in the air -- basically anything that's charged.

So our project -- take these natural spiderweb fibers and use them as an air-filtering system.

In our design, you don't really wear the spider.

We kind of have the spider here as a provocative statement of what it could be.

What we are proposing is to create a good environment for spiders to live in so that they would be happy, produce webs, and then we could use the webs.

They would be this kind of shape that would have webs in the middle, and you wear it as you would wear a mask.

Our project is 'Liver Clear.'

It's a biofilm, which is, essentially, a bacterial membrane that has specific bacteria and microbes in it that can capture and degrade estrogen from your water supply.

Suddenly, there's so many female fish in the rivers, and they couldn't reproduce anymore, and that's where we kind of stemmed from with this estrogen idea.

The idea is that it kind of tapers off towards the normal hole in your toilet, and the estrogen will get trapped in this membrane here.

But the water can still go through the honeycomb structures, so your toilet will function normally, and there is also an idea of having an indicator saying, 'Okay, this is coming out of your body.'

I think the judges were excited to see that the students, even though they were Art and Design students, actually delved into the science.

To be perfectly frank, it's not ready for showtime, but that they had made the material, that they had thought about how it might work, how it's different from materials that are already out there.

I think they were excited that the students had explored context.