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RCA Bio-design: Using Flies to Pollinate Fields Could Transform Agriculture

Students from across the RCA have been exploring how bio-design can shape the future of food production, tackling issues from food waste to future agriculture on Mars. These projects are part of the Biodesign Challenge, an international competition run by Genspace NYC that seeks to build collaborations between artists, designers and biologists.

As part of the challenge, a team of RCA students have created a scheme to address issues associated with declining bee populations. The Pollinator and Orchard Management, or POM, is an agricultural technology that encourages flies to be more efficient pollinators in scenarios where bee pollination is no longer viable. Flies are already inadvertent pollinators, playing a major role within cities and accounting for about 30 per cent of all pollination. POM emits pheromones from a series of devices to manipulate fly movement patterns and ensure efficient pollination and future fruit harvests.

Another team have created Pulpe, a system that tackles textiles waste and pollution, as well as food waste. The Pulpe home-craft kit facilitates food into fashion process in nine easy steps, allowing users to create a new piece of textiles after every meal.

‘Starting the Biodesign Challenge has made me see my place as a designer and given me an opportunity to push my work towards boundaries I could never have imagined,’ explained Alice Potts, one of the Fashion students behind Pulpe. ‘Biodesign captures the here and now and shows this alternative future, allowing you to look beyond what a handbag is to what it could be.’

Design Products, Fashion, Textiles, History of Design, Information Experience Design, Innovation Design Engineering, Architecture and Visual Communication students have come together to take part in the brief in collaboration with scientists from Imperial College. The project has been organised by Helene Steiner, RCA Visiting Lecturer and Post Doc Designer / Researcher at Microsoft, and Dr Thomas Meany, who was Scientific Coordinator for the project and Interdisciplinary Fellow, University of Cambridge.

The seven student teams have engaged with biological, physical and computer science, collaborating between scientific, anthropological and design disciplines to produce a sustainable food future that supports our whole ecosystem. The project provided students with the opportunity to work with scientists from Imperial College, including a one-day workshop in Professor Paul Freemont’s lab led by Dr Kirsten Jensen and Dr Michael Crone.

Prototypes, photographs and films documenting the students' research process will be on display in a pop-up exhibition at White City Place from 1–4 June. The outcomes tackle issues at all levels of the food production chain, from proposals to listen to the gut to better understand the microbial relationship between the digestive system and the brain, to making use of the fungal network between plants to distribute nutrients in urban food growing environments, and designs that tackle future problems such as food preparation on interplanetary journeys.

From the exhibited projects a jury – made up of Professor Paul Freemont (SynBICITE), James King (Founder Science Practice) and Dr Tempest van Schaik (Science Practice) – will choose just one team to travel to New York and take part in the Biodesign Challenge Summit at the Museum of Modern Art from 23–27 June. Here they will present their design to members of the academic, industrial and design communities and compete with 24 student teams from 22 universities around the world for prizes including the Glass Microbe.


Full details of the RCA student projects can be found on the RCA Biodesign website.