October 18, 2010 | David F. Coppedge

Biomimetics Frontier: The Wild Wet

Some animals have figured out how to turn wetness into an ally instead of a nuisance, and some research teams are hard on their heels trying to learn how to settle that frontier.

  1. Wet feet:  Geckos cling to walls and ceilings even when their feet are wet.  How do they do it?  It would be nice to know, because human adhesives typically get gooey and slippery when wet.  Kellar Autumn, the one who figured out how their feet cling to surfaces using atomic van der Waals forces, has been studying the effects of moisture on gecko feet.  According to Science Daily, he and his team at Lewis and Clark College figured out via experiments on discarded gecko setae that the cling isn’t due to capillary action.  Composed of keratin, the setae become softer when moist.  This makes them deformable and creates more adhesion, giving the animals an even better grip than their remarkable cling on dry surfaces.
  2. Wet silk:  Another “completely counterintuitive” discovery was made about wet silk from silkworms.  Most man-made substances become more diffuse when wet, but silk becomes more concentrated.  Researchers at the Institut Laue-Langevin in Sweden, working with others from Oxford, first found that the silk proteins are hundreds of times more concentrated inside the silkworm than most proteins can be and remain stable.  “Even stranger, as the concentration drops the proteins begin to expand and flow, until they eventually clump together — this is the reverse of what we’d expected,” a team member said, according to Science Daily.
        Silkworms exceed the capabilities of the scientists to control this substance.  The scientists lose control when the proteins get diluted.  “In the lab, the effect is a like a neat ball of string becoming unravelled into a big mess that ties itself in knots,” the article said.  “However, the silkworms are able to control this process so that the proteins are spun into highly ordered silk filaments as they unfold and begin to flow.  This surprising observation is a vital step towards understanding the liquid precursor, which is essential to synthesise silk and develop new materials with silk’s desirable mechanical properties.
  3. Wet backs without sunburn:  Somehow little creatures called water fleas can live under UV radiation in their clear watery habitat without getting sunburn.  PhysOrg described how they manage without extra melanin – the dark protein that provides some UV protection in human skin.  The article did not explain how the water flea Daphnia does this trick in its Olympic Mountain pond environment.  Scientists at the University of Washington would like to know. 

Brooks Miner, who is using National Science Foundation funds to study the water flea, is learning his Darwin storytelling well.  Faced with no explanation for how the bugs shield themselves from ultraviolet light, he said, “It could be that they evolved to use other strategies because the ultraviolet isn’t as intense here.”  According to this notion, melanin slows down their growth, so “the water fleas in the Olympic Mountains apparently evolved less-costly means to deal with UV radiation.”  How they did that, he did not say.

Miner’s little transgression illustrates how Darwinists take irrefutable evidence for design and subvert it into Darwinian storytelling, not because the evidence demands it (quite the contrary), but because the culture of storytelling Darwin created with his “one long argument” tall tale makes it a kind of expected tradition.  For more examples of this besetting sin of the Darwin Party, listen to Casey Luskin on an ID the Future podcast describe how several more of Nature’s list of “Evolutionary Gems” (see 01/02/2009) turn out to say, when the original sources are examined, almost nothing about evolution, but only add a “narrative gloss” to the explanation in spite of the evidence.  Meanwhile, the de-facto I.D. science of biomimetics marches on.

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