How climate change and biodiversity loss are laying bare man's dependence on the natural world

Nature constant tinkering, has found some truly unique designs solutions, from the trunk of elephant to the spiny nature of a cactus.

The natural world around us provides us examples of functional systems built with a handful of materials. Throughout the millennia, nature has evolved to adapt and developed highly sophisticated methods to solve problems. There are numerous examples of functional surfaces, fibrous structures, structural colors, self-healing, thermal insulation etc., which offer important lessons for the textile products of future. Animals, plants and insects in nature have evolved over billions of years to develop more efficient solutions, such as super hydrophobicity, self-cleaning, self-repair, energy conservation, drag reduction, dry adhesion, and adaptive growth and so on, than comparable man-made solution to date. Some of these solutions may have inspired humans to achieve outstanding outcomes. For example, the idea of fishing nets may have originated from spider web, the strength and stiffness of the hexagonal honeycomb may have led to its adoption for use in lightweight structures in airplanes and in many other applications.   

Climate change and biodiversity loss are lying bare our dependence on the natural world for everything from food we eat to the air we breathe. But nature also holds the solution to other problems, inspiring scientific discovery in a host of unexpected ways. Nature- “a source of inspiration for science” because it has figured out the way the Earth support life. It is imperative we look to the biological blueprint that has been successful over millennia to launch groundbreaking ideas faster. From smelly durian fruit that could charge electric cars to sea sponge that might help build better spaceship, here is a selection of scientific work inspired by nature. Removing tumors and blood clots through minimal invasive surgery may soon become easier, thanks to a flexible, ultra-thin and steerable needle inspired by parasitic wasps. These formidable insects inject their eggs into living hosts such as caterpillars through hollow needle called the ovipositors. Scientists from the Delft University of Technology in Netherlands studied the ovipositor’s delivery mechanism with blades that slide up and down alternately, using friction to push the eggs through. Researchers designed a needle made up of sliding rods that imitate the ovipositor, according to a recent study in Frontiers in Bioengineering and Biotechnology. They say the new needle is capable of reaching deeply buried parts of the body to inject medicine or remove harmful formations, while minimizing trauma and patient recovery time. This is a starkly different outcome than for the targets of parasitic wasps, whose larva often devour their caterpillar host from the inside.

Spider make silk to entangle unsuspecting bugs, but now humans can use it to make optical lenses capable of picturing viruses that are invisible to the naked eye. In a study published in theJournal of Applied Physics, scientists said they used daddy-long-legs dragline –silk, which makes a web’s frame-as a support for the lens. In experiments, they covered a strand of spider silk in wax then dripped resins onto it. As it condensed, the silk naturally formed a dome which researchers baked in an ultraviolet oven. The resulting optical lens is about the size of a red blood cell and could be used to picture Nano-scale objects like viruses or the inside of biological tissues. As the lens is made from natural, non-toxic material, it can safely be used inside the body. An intricately latticed marine sponge called Venus flower basket found in the depths of the Pacific Ocean could inspire stronger skyscrapers, longer bridges and lighter spacecraft, according to a study published in Nature Materials. Scientists discovered that the structure of sponge’s tabular skeleton gives it a higher strength- to- weight ratio than traditional designs that have been used for centuries for building and bridges. They have been studying structure- function relationship in sponge skeletal systems for more than 20 years. Stinky fruit, to some, they are succulent and delicious, to others they are so overpoweringly stinky that they are routinely banned from hotel rooms across South-East Asia. But the durian fruit may be about to add a new unexpected reason for its fame-helping to charge mobile phones and electric cars. In a study published in the Journal of Energy Storage, scientists described how they made extremely light and porous materials called aerogels from the fruit. Aerogels are “great super-capacitor” which resembles energy reservoir that dole out energy smoothly according to Prof Vincent Gomes of Sydney University. According to him, super capacitor can quickly store large amounts of energy within a small battery-sized device.

Cars, aero planes and buildings are mostly made of steel, concrete or brick. Bamboo has attracted interest as versatile construction materials. But, how to make it strong enough? In a study published in ACS Nano, researchers said they had found an answer. By partially removing the lignin-an organic substance which forms woody tissue- and microwaving the bamboo, researchers said its strength nearly doubled. Bamboo is already used to build houses and bridges, but this new discovery may further increase its popularity as a light, fast growing and sustainable alternative to polluting materials. From forest to the depths of the Ocean , "Amore” from the Bio mimicry Institute said, there was so much intelligence to tap into the natural world. We can use bio-mimicry, this practice of studying nature and replicating its strategies in design to not only learn from nature’s wisdom but also heal ourselves and this planet in the process. In one way, nature is perfectly imperfect and it is constantly evolving and adaptive. The parts that are beneficial remain while the parts that are not, will be discarded or adapted to the changing condition on the planet. Nature constant tinkering, has found some truly unique designs solutions, from the trunk of elephant to the spiny nature of a cactus. Even ants hills are designed in a way that allows cool air to circulate in and out, providing comfortable home for ants.

(The views expressed are the write's own. The writer can be reached at


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First Published:Jan. 9, 2021, 2:56 p.m.

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