March 14, 2008 | David F. Coppedge

Animal Feats Inspire Imitation

Imagine carrying 850 times your own weight.  Step aside, Hercules, and meet the Hercules beetle: the strongest creature in the world.  Science Daily said that researchers in Belgium are not just impressed with its show of strength.  They are finding inspiration for “intelligent materials.”
    The Hercules beetle has a shell that is able to change colors when the humidity changes.  The normally green shell turns black as water enters microscopic pores that interfere with light.  Scientists are not sure why the beetle has this feature, but they want to imitate it.  “The sort of structural behaviour displayed by the Hercules Beetle could be an important property for ‘intelligent materials’,” one researcher said.  These materials could work as passive humidity detectors without the need for electronics – useful, for instance, in food processing plants to monitor moisture conditions.
    Switch your attention from feats to feet.  In a story on Science Daily last month, MIT wizards have learned from mighty lizards.  They have produced a dissolving bandage, inspired by gecko feet.  “Drawing on some of the principles that make gecko paws unique, the surface of the bandage has the same kind of nanoscale hills and valleys that allow the lizards to cling to walls and ceilings” the article explains.  “Layered over this landscape is a thin coating of glue that helps the bandage stick in wet environments, such as to heart, bladder or lung tissue”
    Finding materials that can stick in a wet environment would be very useful for surgeons working on blood vessels, heart tissue, ulcers and intestines.  The MIT inventors took inspiration from tissues of other creatures besides the gecko.  They invented a kind of bio-rubber that is flexible, adhesive to wet surfaces, and biocompatible (non-inflammatory).  Because the bandage is also biodegradable, the doctor can put it on, and let it dissolve away when its work is done.

The bandage’s work is done, of course, because of a highly sophisticated repair mechanism in the body that can re-grow damaged tissue if the rupture is sealed for a period of time.
    This is the way science should be done.  No metaphysical incursions, no ethical excursions – not even storytelling diversions or anticreationist aspersions.  Just look at nature to understand it, with the goal of helping mankind.

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