Grow your own custom shoes from genetically engineered stingrays

Rayfish Footwear is a company from Thailand that claims to be able to genetically engineer stingrays with customized colors and patterns that it then uses to make shoes. It's a futuristic, dramatic, and perhaps ethically questionable way of designing clothing— we're just not quite sure whether it's real or not.

Apparently, Rayfish has developed a process by which it can "bio-customize" living, transgenic stingrays. A genetic library derived from dozens of different species allows you to mix and match colors and patterns from different animals using an online design tool:

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When you find something you like, Rayfish will implant a "supercluster" of genes into a fetal stingray that will then express your customized look as it grows. When the stingray has reached a size commensurate with the size of your feet (which takes six to eight months), it's "harvested," its skin is turned into leather, and you get a handmade pair of shoes in the mail. You can apparently (we're using that word a lot, we know) design and purchase a pair right now for between $14,800 and $16,200, but Rayfish says that when regular production begins later this year, a pair of customized stingray sneakers will only cost approximately $1,800.

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Now, we're reasonably sure that this a joke, a hoax, or some other case where concept and product are very far apart. David Edwards, a professor of Bioengineering at Harvard University told the Daily Mail that "one suspects [Rayfish is] playing with genetics, if they are doing anything at all, and claiming an understanding they don't possess." There is certainly some truth here, though, or at least bits of truth: while you can (for example) crossbreed a zebra with a horse making, and we kid you not, zorses and hebras that exhibit hybrid patterns and coloration, this is as far as we know not anywhere close to us being able to tweak DNA to result in specific patterns and colors, to say nothing of patterns and colors that aren't naturally expressed by the animal in question.

Having said that, you can also introduce genetic material from one kind of animal into another: for example, jellyfish genes are used to cause some animals to fluoresce under certain conditions for research purposes. So, in principle, this sort of genetic manipulation is not out of the realm of possibility. But again, as far as we know the ability to combine genes from unrelated animals with the precision required to express customized colors and patterns on demand (down to selecting foregrounds and backgrounds) is just not what the current state of technology can make happen.

The tricky thing about Rayfish is that there's enough truth in there that it just might be possible, or at the very least, we have to admit that it's not completely impossible. And if our reasonable sureitude that this is at worst fake and at best not entirely real turns out to be totally wrong, well, that would be awesome and we'd be happy (and amazed) to be proven otherwise. Just don't get your hopes up.

If you're sold, or not, you can see pics of possibly real transgenic stingrays and definitely fake shoes in the gallery below, along with a video of Rayfish CEO Dr. Raymond Ong apparently giving a talk about how Rayfish works.

Rayfish, via FastCo and MailOnline

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