November 12, 2012 | David F. Coppedge

Jellyfish for Your Health

Jellyfish have inspired a cancer cell search tool – just one of new products and services inspired by nature.

Tentacle probe:  “Inspired by marine creatures that present long tentacles containing multiple adhesive domains to effectively capture flowing food particulates,” medical researchers built a new probe for blood that catches more circulating tumor cells (CTCs) than possible before, a new paper in PNAS reported.  The tentacles allow a 3-D network arrangement of DNA strands that match rare cancer cells in small samples of blood.  Science Daily describes what they did:

A new device from researchers at MIT and Brigham and Women’s Hospital overcomes those obstacles. Inspired by the tentacles of a jellyfish, the team coated a microfluidic channel with long strands of DNA that grab specific proteins found on the surfaces of leukemia cells as they flow by. Using this strategy, the researchers achieved flow rates 10 times higher than existing devices — fast enough to make the systems practical for clinical use.

Science Daily posted a second article on this new bio-inspired technology that can help “catch and release” marker cells before they metastasize, all by mimicking the tentacle method of jellyfish and sea cucumbers.

Mr. Clean butterfly:  Did you ever think about how hard it would be for a butterfly to fly with dirty wings?  Fortunately, they come equipped with self-cleaning surfaces that resist water and dust.  Researchers at Ohio State University have created a surface with similar properties that does a much better job at staying clean, Science Daily reported.  We’ve heard about shark skin and lotus leaves with this property, but now butterflies – already a source of bio-inspiration for their bright colors – join the cleaning crew.  Their research paper is entitled, “Bioinspired rice leaf and butterfly wing surface structures combining shark skin and lotus effects.”  Put that texture inside pipes and you could “enhance fluid flow and prevent surfaces from getting dirty — characteristics that could be mimicked in high-tech surfaces for aircraft and watercraft, pipelines, and medical equipment.”

Automatic assembly:  Proteins fold into intricate shapes by nature of their amino acid sequences.  Scientists would like to build nano-machines that do that trick.  In Nature last week (Nov 8), a team came a little closer to that goal by designing sequences that could fold into very simple shapes that constitute building blocks of higher protein structures, namely, alpha coils and beta sheets.  So far the results only demonstrate proof of concept for the idea; natural proteins are much more complex.  According to the Editor’s Summary of a Nature News & Views article on this effort, “The design principles and methodology described here should allow the design of a wide range of robust and stable protein building blocks for the next generation of engineered functional proteins.”  Birte Hocker wrote, “With lengths of 80–100 amino acids, the authors’ protein structures are comparable in size to small protein domains that act as building blocks of larger, more complex proteins. The design of custom protein scaffolds that perform new functions is now conceivable, as is the assembly of bigger designed domains and quaternary complexes.”

Nano-machines:  Speaking of proteins, many of them fold into molecular machines that capture random thermal energy and turn it into useful work.  Scientists in Berlin succeeded in making a very simple lever-like device that turns randomly moving hydrogen molecules into specified work, New Scientist said.  “Jose Ignacio Pascual at the Free University of Berlin in Germany and colleagues took inspiration from the natural world, where random motion powers structures such as proteins that move cargo around inside cells.”

Weird brain:  In a case of biomimetics in reverse, one organism appears to mimic human intellectual abilities.  That organism is Physarum polycephalum, a slime mold.  Nature News published an article about how this colonial microbe shows an uncanny ability to “solve mazes, mimic the layout of man-made transportation networks and choose the healthiest food from a diverse menu—and all this without a brain or nervous system.”  This organism is raising questions about what constitutes intelligence.  The article includes a video clip of the organism solving a maze and creating a memory of the most direct path.

Our Creator must laugh when proud man struggles to catch up with the technologies He built into the simplest living things.  Christian parents should think seriously about a biomimetics career for their science-precocious kids.  It’s 100% Darwin-free and can help mankind.  Start them on a science project to take a bug, spider or leaf from around the house and try to build something that imitates some desirable feature of its life.  If they hesitate, tell them they can be Spiderman.

 

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