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Humanity's challenges and nature's solutions

A new book reviews the process of learning and imitation of nature's solutions, also known as the field of biomimicry, (bio = life, mimicry = imitation), a field of thought in global growth identified as an engine of innovation

Dr. Yael Halfman Cohen

Inventions of Nature by Dr. Yael Helfman Cohen
Inventions of Nature by Dr. Yael Helfman Cohen

Imagine that you open your computer, and instead of the colorful Google letters that everyone knows above the search window, you write Nature in any color you choose. You can enter any question in the small search window, and nature will answer you. The search will be carried out in the database of nature's inventions, and the search methods will be adapted to the natural search space. Many challenges that occupy humanity, planning, social, and organizational challenges have already been solved in nature. The process of learning and imitating nature's solutions is today identified with the field of biomimicry, (bio = life, mimicry = imitation), a field of knowledge in global growth identified as an engine of innovation.

There is a way to solve challenges in a sustainable, innovative, holistic way, to produce growth that produces more growth! Nature's solutions are effective, environmental, surprising, and based on a different way of thinking! I will put on the futurist hat for a moment and describe possible meeting points between humanity's challenges and nature's solutions.  

1. Organizations in a changing and complex world: Organizations have a lot to learn from nature about managing complex systems under changing conditions, starting with the intelligence of swarms that organize themselves and spontaneously to adapt to changing conditions, and ending with flexible structures in nature that absorb vibrations and mechanical stresses. The range of solutions in nature is wide, and flexibility and self-organization are the name of the game in the coming years. Our ability to deal with a complex environment and with complex problems will increase as we move from a reductionist view to a holistic view, which simultaneously sees all the components of the system and the connections between them. The complexity lies in the relationships between the factors and not in each individual factor.

 2. Information: The technologies of the future will deal with extracting information, extracting meaning from it and transferring information efficiently and quickly between many agents. The internet of things, big data, data mining, cloud technologies and autonomous vehicles are just some of the technologies identified with the information challenges of the 21st century. Models of communication in nature between many individuals can serve as a source of knowledge for solutions: how do bees efficiently transfer information between thousands of individuals? How does the brain work with the neuron network, process information and shape meaning? How does the locust move in flocks of tens of thousands of individuals that do not collide with each other?

3. Material: We live in a system closed to matter, and the challenges of matter are undoubtedly the challenges of the future. In the future, we will strive to produce materials that mimic the chemistry of nature, so that few materials will produce rich functionality and will also be easy to break down and available for recycling at the end of use. Imagine that we could feed XNUMXD printers with such materials: we could print our future in the image of nature.

The world of biomimetic chemistry is still in its infancy. Over time, more and more proteins, enzymes, peptides and molecules will be discovered with incredible functionality and worthy of imitation. The 100 years of modern chemistry, in which synthetic materials were produced, are in the blink of an eye compared to the billions of years of evolution. In the future, we will see more and more materials that were first identified in nature, and will be transferred to human use after industrial scale production systems are developed, which will imitate the wonderful properties of these materials with the tools of nanobiotechnology and genetic engineering.

4. Energy: Many challenges that concern humanity are related to energy. Many breakthroughs still await us in identifying solutions related to energy efficiency and harvesting energy in innovative ways. We live in an open energy system. Solar energy is available and renewable, but it is natural that we strive to utilize it as in nature. In the future we will see the maturation of technologies that make optimal use of sunlight, such as artificial photosynthesis. We may also see new engines, such as a hydrostatic engine, capable of utilizing the forces of nature for propulsion purposes, or structure-based engines instead of those that burn fossil fuels.

5. Water and food: How to provide good quality sources of food and drinking water for a growing population? Producing water in nature does not involve pollution or massive energy investment. Biomimetic membranes have already been developed that imitate biological membranes, which enable purification and desalination of water. Considerable resources are also currently being invested in imitating water harvesting mechanisms, similar to the mechanism of the Namibian beetle, with the aim of building huge facilities that will be placed in populated areas without accessible water sources. Also in the field of food and food-tech technologies there is great potential for innovation from nature: optimization of agricultural growing processes, waste extraction, packaging that provides food protection without harming the environment and even alternative protein technologies. These technologies deal with the identification of proteins from the plant world, which will form the basis for creating meat substitutes as a biotechnological solution with an efficient and environmentally beneficial biomimetic approach.

6. Medicine: According to the assessment, regenerative medicine and tissue engineering are the areas that will drive the biomimetic medical technologies market. Research and imitation of natural healing processes for rebuilding tissues and understanding the function of biological tissues, can lead to new healing technologies. Another need that can be answered biomimetic is the need for non-invasive technologies. Applications of tiny robots inspired by nature can address this need. I believe that in the future there will also be new strategies to fight bacteria inspired by nature - structural and non-material solutions. In my estimation, new medicines will also be found in nature's pharmacy, and we will be able to imitate them.

7. Urbanity: In the next hundred years, hundreds of millions of people are expected to move to live in cities, as part of a global urbanization trend. This figure requires renewed and up-to-date thinking about the structure of the future city. The cities of the future will function as an ecosystem, absorb carbon dioxide instead of emitting it, allow water to permeate and return to the earth, and generate energy from sunlight instead of turning it into heat islands. The cities of the future, like nature, will cope well with floods, fires and extreme weather changes. In recent years, we are starting to see more and more urban planning projects inspired by nature, while assimilating the principles of sustainability and from a holistic view of a city connected to its natural environment. Even for the trend of smart cities, nature has a lot to offer: smart algorithms inspired by ants for optimal routing of traffic, means to reduce loads and emissions, smart solutions for handling garbage and turning it into a nutritious resource (garbage = food), ways to eradicate epidemics and prevent infections inspired by social insects, and more.


If you want to know more about nature as a source of inventions and solutions, you are welcome to tell us "The inventions of nature - how to produce innovation inspired by nature" which was recently published, the first book on biomimicry in Hebrew.

Dr. Yael Halfman Cohen is the co-founder and CEO of the Israeli Biomimicry Organization and the founder of the Code Nature company. For the past decade, she has been engaged in entrepreneurship, a consultant for innovation processes inspired by nature and a lecturer in the field of biomimicry in academia and industry, in Israel and abroad.

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