December 14, 2015 | David F. Coppedge

Biomimetics Line-Up

Here’s what’s hot in the trendy science of making things the way nature does it.

Tiny robots inspired by pine cones (Science Daily): “The future of bio-inspired engineering or robotics will greatly benefit from lessons learned from plants, according to a group of Seoul National University researchers.” Many plants create motion without batteries by harnessing the supply or deprival of water from plant tissues. We can’t we do that? We can. Make like a leaf and treat this as a design problem.

Your tablet screen is brought to you with the aid of … carrots (PhysOrg): Liquid crystals are behind the magic of screens in TV sets, smartphones and tablets, but where did they come from? This article states, “few people know that the lowly carrot inspired the liquid crystals at the core of such hi-tech gadgets.” Subtances in carrots were found in 1888 to have two melting points. “This was very exciting academically at the time … but the world didn’t know what to do with it,” the article says. It wasn’t until the 1960s that scientists began to find their potential in display screens, and the rest is history.

Estonian turtle-robot searches for shipwrecks and treasure (PhysOrg). This one may inspire Christmas toys. Imitating sea turtles, a new robot can search through murky water without stirring up sediment like traditional propellers do. “The unique feature of the U-CAT, about the size of a vacuum cleaner, is four silicon flippers inspired by streamlined sea turtles’ arms and legs.

A biomimetic hybrid nanoplatform for encapsulation and precisely controlled delivery of therasnostic agents (Nature Communications): Scientists introduce a nano-engineered capsule for delivering drugs inside the body to fight cancer.

Here we report a robust eukaryotic cell-like hybrid nanoplatform (EukaCell) for encapsulation of theranostic agents (doxorubicin and indocyanine green). The EukaCell consists of a phospholipid membrane, a cytoskeleton-like mesoporous silica matrix and a nucleus-like fullerene core. At high drug-to-nanoparticle feeding ratios (for example, 1:0.5), the encapsulation efficiency and loading content can be improved by 58 and 21 times, respectively, compared with conventional silica nanoparticles. Moreover, release of the encapsulated drug can be precisely controlled via dosing near infrared laser irradiation. Ultimately, the ultra-high (up to ~87%) loading content renders augmented anticancer capacity both in vitro and in vivo. Our EukaCell is valuable for drug delivery to fight against cancer and potentially other diseases.

Engineers build biologically powered chip (PhysOrg): “Columbia Engineering researchers have, for the first time, harnessed the molecular machinery of living systems to power an integrated circuit from adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the energy currency of life.” Did you know life’s ATP machinery is like a transistor? Look at the comparison between bio-electronics and artificial electronics:

Amazing FactsLiving systems achieve this functionality with their own version of electronics based on lipid membranes and ion channels and pumps, which act as a kind of ‘biological transistor.’ They use charge in the form of ions to carry energy and information—ion channels control the flow of ions across cell membranes. Solid-state systems, such as those in computers and communication devices, use electrons; their electronic signaling and power are controlled by field-effect transistors.

The full paper about this is  published in Nature Communications. The first sentence is ecstatic: “There is enormous potential in combining the capabilities of the biological and the solid state to create hybrid engineered systems.”

Materials scientists learn how mother of pearl is made (PhysOrg): Seashell material is incredibly strong for its weight, and Cornell scientists want to know how oysters do it. So far they are just trying to make detailed images with an electron microscope.

Highly efficient nature-inspired membrane could potentially lower cost of water purification by 30 per cent (PhysOrg): What do you and the mangrove have in common? They inspired design of a membrane that is much more efficient at purifying water. In the mangrove, it’s the root; in the human body, it’s the kidney membrane. In both, membrane channels called aquaporins are what the scientists want to imitate. Their copy is stronger and more stable than traditional filters.

Explained Assoc Prof Tong, “The biomimetic membrane is constructed to mimic the layers of cells on the roots of mangrove trees by embedding nano-sized aquaporin-vesicles onto a stable and functional ultrafiltration substrate membrane using an innovative yet simple and easy-to-implement surface imprinting technology. We found that the resultant aquaporin-incorporated biomimetic membrane allows water to pass through it faster and also display lower salt leakage than a membrane without aquaporin.”

‘Al dente’ fibers could make bulletproof vests stronger and ‘greener’ (PhysOrg): Oils from olives and peanuts have inspired a new protective material. The fatty acids in these plants led to construction of a material that is 2 times stronger and 250 times more efficient than current methods. Here’s another use for the peanut to add to George Washington Carver‘s list of 300 peanut-based products and foods. And did you ever conceive that your virgin olive oil could help stop a speeding bullet?

Wearable microbial power plants generate electricity from urine (New Scientist): You’re not going to believe this one. Your pee could power a microbial fuel cell that could power a device that could send out a distress message, thanks to fish. Here’s how this new idea of “wearable electronics” works:

Aiming to make a self-sufficient, wearable device that works anywhere without additional power, the team created a manual foot pump inspired by how fish use involuntary muscles to circulate blood around their bodies.

Instead of muscle, the pump uses flexible silicone tubes, which wrap under the heels and connect to bendy MFCs [microbial fuel cells] near the ankles. Each step taken squeezes and releases the tubes to pump the urine around.

Add this novel concept to our recent entry about turning waste into treasure (11/17/15).

Superhydrophobic coating protects without the price (PhysOrg): The lotus leaf is back, inspiring scientists to design similarly-effective waterproof materials. Check out this quote:

Nature knows how to make these materials and stay environmentally friendly,” Barron said. “Our job has been to figure out how and why, and to emulate that.

Build a network, cellular style (Science Daily): Sandia National Labs is on the biomimetics bandwagon, too, thinking of the potential for creating networks of nano-highways the way cells do.

Inside plants, microbes, and other living things, cells quickly and continuously create transport networks, which move nutrients and wastes. The networks’ diversity and stability inspired scientists to design a process that co-opts natural biomolecular protein machines to extrude tubes and assemble them into networks.

The scientists used kinesin motors from cells (see Evolution News & Views). Is that plagiarism or flattery? One should always credit the source.

Biomimetics is making science fun again. This is the way it should be: understand something, and use it to improve the world. This kind of science owes nothing to materialism or Darwinism. It’s all about design, a mental creative power that implies intelligence, information and beneficence.





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  • John C says:

    It was in reading another of your biomimetics postings that it occurred to me (sometimes these things take awhile, lumps to prove it!): Have you ever noticed that biomimetics researchers are NEVER inspired by nature to EVOLVE something? They want that ability, that technology, NOW. So they may say they BELIEVE in evolution, but they BEHAVE like creationists.

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