October 2, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Nature: 3.8 Billion Years of R&D

Scientists continue mining the biomimicry bonanza, but some still give all the credit to time and evolution.

Here are three new biomimetics articles about plants.

Sunflowers as solar energy models:  A clever short video on Live Science finds nature, once again, providing the optimum solution to a problem.  The problem is arranging mirrors in a giant solar collection facility so as to minimize shadows.  The solution: mimic the sunflower.  The spiral arrangement of florets in the center of a sunflower, following the Fibonacci series, turns out to pack the most light collection in the smallest space while minimizing shadows on other mirrors.  The video did not mention another property that solar farms would have difficulty imitating: sunflowers exist on stalks that can turn and follow the sun.

Diatoms can feed, speed the world:  We are surrounded by bounteous resources we can hardly imagine: microscopic organisms in water that live in glass houses, called diatoms.  PhysOrg writes, “Ancient diatoms could make biofuels, electronics and health food—at the same time.”  Researchers at Oregon State are creating a “photosynthetic biorefinery,” the article says, getting the little nanofactories to make customized products by special order.  Give them water, some minerals and sunshine, and they could make a steady stream of affordable, eco-friendly products: biofuels, biomedical products, and even semiconductors.  “The key to all of this is the diatom itself, a natural nanotechnology factory that has been found in the fossil record for more than 100 million years.”

Drugs on demand from plants:  Plants make a host of aromatic compounds they use for signaling, defense and symbiosis.  Now, mimicking “a crucial but obscure biochemical phenomenon,” scientists at Scripps have “followed nature’s lead” to figure out how to make terpenes, compounds hard to synthesize in the lab but made routinely by plants.  This could lead to faster and cheaper manufacture of drugs like the anti-cancer agent Taxol.  Science Daily quoted the senior investigator who said, “It’s exciting for us because we’re now making molecules that have never been made in the laboratory before, and we’ve done this by first observing what nature does.

Biomimicry on a Roll

One article really excited about biomimetics can be found on PhysOrg from Mother Nature Network, titled: “Biomimicry: Science inspired by nature could feed the hungry, reduce impact of technology.”  This implies that many of our problems in civilization are not for lack of resources, but lack of know-how.  That know-how is all around us in plants and animals.  Whales, butterflies and fungi are just three of the examples in the article that can lead to more efficient machinery, more productive food crops, better medical devices and much, much more.

Biomimicry looks for how nature performs a function,” Marie Zanowick, a certified biomimicry professional for the Environmental Protection Agency, told Boulder Weekly. “It mimics natural strategy and the best design principles on this planet.

Design principles” as humans devise them usually require many brain cycles of research and development (R&D).  That’s true in nature, too, the article said.  In order to adapt, be resource-efficient, integrate development with growth, be eco-friendly and responsive to the environment, living things have learned R&D.  “It’s based on 3.8 billion years of research and development, and the only organisms that survive are the ones that follow life’s principles.

Need we keep repeating that neo-Darwinism is completely, totally, and irrevocably incapable of R&D?  Evolution is blind.  It has no foresight.  It has no purpose.  It cannot, therefore, come up with “design principles.”  Giving it billions of years doesn’t help; it makes things worse.

Once we purge the last remaining fallacies out of biomimetics, it is poised to usher in a golden age of science grounded on what should be its foundation: intelligent design.

 

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