July 1, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Evolutionists Taking Credit for Biomimetics

Biomimetics is all about design – intelligent design, mimicking the superb designs found in nature.  Why, then, are some scientists claiming evolutionary theory is where the biomimetic beef is?

Gecko toes: the impossible dreamPhysOrg titled an article in big, bold print: “How sticky toepads evolved in geckos and what that means for adhesive technologies.”  Based on a paper in PLoS ONE (Gamble T, Greenbaum E, Jackman TR, Russell AP, Bauer AM (2012) Repeated Origin and Loss of Adhesive Toepads in Geckos. PLoS ONE 7(6): e39429. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039429), PhysOrg filled its coverage with the e-word evolution or its derivatives no less than 15 times.  The amazing thing, though, is that believing the research paper requires accepting the authors’ claim that geckos “evolved” their intricate toe pads that allow them to walk on walls and ceilings multiple times: “Geckos have independently evolved their trademark sticky feet as many as 11 times, and lost them nine times, according to research published June 27 in the open access journal PLoS ONE.”  The lead author, Tony Gamble (U of Minnesota) seemed astonished himself at the gecko’s luck in the mutational lottery: “To discover that geckos evolved sticky toepads again and again is amazing,” he exclaimed.

What, exactly, does evolutionary theory contribute to the engineers who want to copy gecko technology?  It’s not apparent how speculating about gecko habitat changes in the unobservable past would help a design engineer, nor does this statement by a co-author of the paper: “The loss of adhesive pads in dune-dwelling species is an excellent example of natural selection in action.”  Where does he put that on the design specifications, if he is trying to use intelligent design? Maybe this statement about repeated evolution will help:

Repeated evolution is a key phenomenon in the study of evolutionary biology. A classic example is the independent evolution of wings in birds, bats and pterosaurs. It represents a shared solution that organisms arrived at separately to overcome common problems.

Our representative engineer is still shaking his head.  The authors tell about how they studied the family trees of more than 100 gecko genera.  “The family tree will also allow the authors to revise gecko taxonomy to best reflect the group’s evolutionary history.”  The engineer is still wondering how this helps.

The best attempt to give evolution credit is at the end of the PhysOrg article.  Play engineer and see if it tells you how to design a sticky-foot robot any better than if you didn’t know anything about gecko evolution, but were just intrigued by the mechanism on living geckos:

Gaining a better understanding of the complex evolutionary history of gecko toepads allows bio-inspired engineers to learn from these natural designs and develop new applications,” says co-author Anthony Russell, of the University of Calgary.

While scientists have a good understanding of how geckos stick at the microscopic level, they are just beginning to understand how geckos use their adhesive toepads to move around complex environments in the wild. Learning how gecko toepads have evolved to move in nature is an important step in developing robotic technologies that can do similar things. “It’s one thing to stick and unstick a piece of ‘gecko tape’ to a smooth surface in a lab, but something else altogether to get a robotic gecko to move across a complicated landscape in the real world and stick to all the different shapes and textures it will encounter,” says Gamble. Examining the repeated evolution of gecko toepads will let scientists find common ways natural selection solved these problems and focus on the characteristics shared across different gecko species.

It seems that information could be gained from observing living geckos without knowing anything about a presumed evolutionary history.

Sponge semiconductors:  Evolution appeared in the title of another biomimetics article, this time on New Scientist: “Evolution could generate new semiconducting structures.”  Here, evolutionary theory was not claimed to provide insight on how to design things, as in the previous article.  Instead, the engineers look at sponges and their proteins, and then thought they could do better.  They randomly varied the proteins with the goal of discovering structures useful for the semiconductor industry.  This is another case of artificial selection, therefore – not undirected, unguided, purposeless evolution in the Darwinian sense.  It’s like cattle breeding; i.e., intelligent design.

Self-assembling proteins:  Another biomimetics article on Science Daily gave evolution only a brief, passing mention.  In this story, researchers at the University of Montreal came up with a better way to visualize how proteins self-assemble in living cells.  “Enabling bioengineers to design new molecular machines for nanotechnology applications is one of the possible outcomes” of the study – that’s the biomimetics angle.  What’s the evolution angle or contribution to understanding?

Proteins are made of long linear chains of amino acids, which have evolved over millions of years to self-assemble extremely rapidly — often within thousandths of a split second — into a working nanomachine.

A statement winning Stupid Evolution Quote of the Week is unlikely to provide understanding of any kind.

Someone joked that a Senator is someone who looks which way the crowd is going, runs up to the front of the line and declares himself their leader.  That’s what Senator Charlie D. from Down-Down-Down House is trying to do.  He’s leading a shrinking band of disciples down the hill to the Museum of Has-Beens.

Darwinists, keep your grubby hands off of biomimetics.  It doesn’t belong to you.  You have nothing to contribute.  If you want us to believe that geckos evolved toes so well designed they use Van der Waals atomic forces to stick to ceilings, and not only that, but did it 11 times independently, then we will thank you (for the funny joke).  If you want to tell us that evolution produced proteins that assemble within thousandths of a split second into working nanomachines by chance over millions of years, sayonara.

The rapid rise of biomimetics over the last decade is a sign that people are tired of useless just-so stories.  Real cutting-edge science for the 21st century, on the rise in both medical genetics and biomimetics, is based on the implicit assumption that natural structures are intelligently designed and full of potential for enlightenment, wonder, invention, benefit, application, and progress.



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