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Written by Suzanne Heibel   
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Tuesday, 11 November 2008


Very literally translating to mimicking biology, biomimicry is an old idea emerging as a new sustainable method of smart design at a time where industries are searching for more eco-friendly ways to produce their goods and services. Biomimicry is the idea that imitating nature's design, either through species design or ecosystem function, people and companies can create superior products. Nature has a way testing its methods and discarding ideas that just don't work quite right by way of time and evolution. For example, the skin of a dolphin is built for speed in the water and warmth, thus wetsuit companies have emulated this design in order to provide their surfers with the same sleekness and insulation. Like I said before, people have knowingly or unknowingly been doing this for some time, but these days you may be surprised which industries are taking hold of this method that is swiftly rising in popularity.

DNA-based Computers

If you're the kind of person who can't get enough giga or mega bytes to satisfy your music collection, you may be interested in learning about computers that are actually using DNA as a functioning memory. Out of all of nature's exquisite designs, DNA is the most ingenious because it is capable of holding the most information in the smallest volume. And in today's computer world, the most in the smallest size is always desirable.

These new computers work through logic gates. Logic gates are the portal in which binary codes are converted into instructions that are given to computers. By changing the electronic input signals to DNA codes, logic gates will instead receive whatever is in the DNA. This may sound virtually impossible and like something from a sci-fi movie but DNA computers have been doing wonders since they were first invented in 1994 at USC. It is using DNA to “store and process information” rather than to use it as code to create a certain creature. You can even have DNA as its own computer, appearing as only a clear solution in the amount of a few milliliters, and in this are enzymes—commonly called the building blocks of life—which act as hardware and the DNA which acts as software. This computer can analyze solutions without human intervention but since its results are played out in a test tube, it takes human interaction to visually show the output the computer is producing.

In other words, an enzyme plus a strand of DNA is a natural computer that works on its own to complete tasks and problems, but to actually see what it is doing and what is going on inside, you need humans to enlarge it. So far, the DNA computer can only do simple functions, such as answering a yes or no question, but since DNA in nature is capable of doing a trillion things at once, these intricate computers are expected to aid in medical research when there are often millions of possible solutions to one problem. Don’t worry is you are not fully grasping this phenomenon. Just know that the building blocks of life are now being put to their fullest use by working not only to produce all living things but also to act as man's push towards the future.

Hearing Aids and the Ormia Fly

The Ormia fly is not a necessarily amazing species. It is seen as a pest in the Southeast of the US where it is found because it is a common parasite. But this little critter, whose ears are the size of the period at the end of this sentence, are providing science with the technology to create more effective hearing aids.

The trouble with hearing aids is that they often amplify all the sounds in the person’s vicinity, rather than pinpointing the crucial ones. This creates a slough of white noise and prohibits the aid from being incredibly useful. By using the design of the Ormia fly, which has deeply perspicacious hearing and very tiny ears, scientists are able to generate a hearing aid that has superior directional hearing, is smaller, and costs thousands of dollars less than the conventional product. Something as discrete as a fly can become a magnificent contributor to biomimicry.

The Shape of Motion

If movement could be drawn in a specific shape, what would it look like? To an Australian company called PAX Scientific, that shape is a nautilus shell. By mimicking the shell's virtually flawless mold, the company was able to produce fans and propellers that save industries billions of dollars in energy costs. The propeller alone has the capacity to save the shipping industry 10% of their annual energy costs. That may not sound like a huge impact, but it is certainly better to have an extra $4 billion is to spend on a business rather than energy costs. PAX fans reduce energy use by half and are 75% quieter than your everyday fan. Fans are so universally used in every industry from agriculture to your own home, making PAX products very effective at reducing everyone's carbon footprint.

There's So Much More

Although we have only discussed a few examples, there are many more out there that have already been researched and those still waiting for us in Mother Nature to use. From Velcro, to glues, biomimicry can involve any section of any industry and will hopefully help us humans to reduce our waste and finally work with our ecosystems to become a truly sustainable society.

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Last Updated ( Thursday, 10 February 2011 )


Green Facts

  • You will save 300 pounds of carbon dioxide for every 10,000 miles you drive if you always keep your car’s tires fully inflated.

  • One recycled aluminum can will save enough energy to run a 100-watt bulb for 20 hours, a computer for 3 hours, or a TV for 2 hours.

  • States with bottle deposit laws have 35-40% less litter by volume.

  • Recycling 100 million cell phones can save enough energy to power 18,500 homes in the U.S. for a year.

  • An aluminum can that is thrown away instead of recycled will still be a can 500 years from now!

  • Glass can be recycled over and over again without ever wearing down.

  • In California homes, about 10% of energy usage is related to TVs, DVRs, cable and satellite boxes, and DVD players.

  • Recycling 1 million laptop computers can save the amount of energy used by 3,657 homes in the U.S. over the course of a year.

  • In the United States, automobiles produce over 20 percent of total carbon emissions. Walk or bike and you'll save one pound of carbon for every mile you travel.

  • Current sea ice levels are at least 47% lower than they were in 1979.

  • Due to tiger poaching, habitat destruction, and other human-tiger conflicts, tigers now number around 3,200—a decrease in population by about 70% from 100 years ago.

  • Refrigerators built in 1975 used 4 times more energy than current models.

  • A steel mill using recycled scrap reduces related water pollution, air pollution, and mining wastes by about 70%.

  • Turning off the tap when brushing your teeth can save as much as 10 gallons a day per person.

  • Recycling aluminum saves 95% of the energy used to make the material from scratch.

  • The World Health Organization estimates that 2 million people die prematurely worldwide every year due to air pollution.

  • If every U.S. household turned the thermostat down by 10 degrees for seven hours each night during the cold months, and seven hours each weekday, it would prevent nearly gas emissions.

  • Nudge your thermostat up two degrees in the summer and down two degrees in the winter to prevent 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide from entering the atmosphere.

  • Rainforests are being cut down at the rate of 100 acres per minute.

  • You’ll save two pounds of carbon for every 20 glass bottles that you recycle.

  • A laptop consumes five times less electricity than a desktop computer.

  • Shaving 10 miles off of your weekly driving pattern can eliminate about 500 pounds of carbon dioxide emissions a year.

  • A tree that provides a home with shade from the sun can reduce the energy required to run the air conditioner and save an additional 200 to 2,000 pounds of carbon over its lifetime.

  • Every week about 20 species of plants and animals become extinct.

  • Americans throw away enough aluminum to rebuild our entire commercial fleet of airplanes every 3 months

  • A single quart of motor oil, if disposed of improperly, can contaminate up to 2,000,000 gallons of fresh water.

  • Bamboo absorbs 35% more carbon dioxide than equivalent stands of trees.

  • Americans throw away more than 120 million cell phones each year, which contribute 60,000 tons of waste to landfills annually.

  • American workers spend an average of 47 hours per year commuting through rush hour traffic. This adds up to 23 billion gallons of gas wasted in traffic each year.

  • It takes 6,000,000 trees to make 1 year's worth of tissues for the world.

  • You will save 100 pounds of carbon for each incandescent bulb that you replace with a compact fluorescent bulb (CFL), over the life of the bulb.

  • 82 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S. come from burning fossil fuels.

  • 77% of people who commute to work by car drive alone.

  • Recycling for one year at Stanford University saved the equivalent of 33,913 trees and the need for 636 tons of iron ore, coal, and limestone.

  • Washing your clothes in cold or warm instead of hot water saves 500 pounds of carbon dioxide a year, and drying your clothes on a clothesline six months out of the year would save another 700 pounds.

  • Americans use 100 million tin and steel cans every day.

  • Less than 1% of electricity in the United States is generated from solar power.

  • For every 38,000 bills consumers pay online instead of by mail, 5,058 pounds of greenhouse gases are avoided and two tons of trees are preserved.

  • Plastic bags and other plastic garbage thrown into the ocean kill as many as 1,000,000 sea creatures every year.