Biomimetic file 139: Refrigerant free vaccines inspired from sea urchins

How to protect critical systems from unavoidable risks

Image source: Clip Art image. A critical system is any system whose ‘failure’ could threaten human life, the system’s environment or the existence of the organisation which operates the system. “Failure” in this context does NOT mean failure to conform to a specification but means any potentially threatening system behaviour

Highlight: ” CSIRO researchers have come up with a protective seashell-inspired capsule that could cost-effectively and reliably preserve the key active ingredients in vaccines…It mimics a process called biomineralisation where sea urchins grow a hard, protective shell to safeguard their fragile tissue inside. Applying this concept, has led to a molecular-scale shell that grows around and protects fragile biomolecules such as proteins and enzymes…”

Insight: Energy needs (and its cost) often make the difference between a commercially viable initiative and one that is not. In the case of the pharmaceutical industry, a major part of the cost is often due to energy and transport needs in order to keep the products under safe condition rather than the production cost itself. In nature many species anatomy actually provide excellent insulation against the elements in terms of thermal isolation but also other types such as filtering membranes against certain contaminants. We should look in species more for answers when it comes to insulation for diverse applications ranging from medicines to the construction industry…

The above insulation capsule example can be applied to business strategy: there are parts of businesses which are crucial to operations and simply cannot afford to be damaged (physical or conceptually). While a robust risk management strategy can be developed by understanding the risks and coming up with measures to reduce them significantly, there is no such thing as zero risks. Therefore, for systems of critical importance, there needs to be additional protection beyond risk management. An effective way is the protective shell approach which implies surrounding the system with a layer that in the event of a failure will take the first hit and is designed to be damaged in such a way as to protect the inner more critical system. In other words such systems need to be designed to fail within safety limits. In some systems this could be a real protective shell (e.g. a simple helmet protecting a cyclist head, a car crash proof design to protect the driver) or a more complex protection for instance a firewall which would protect a more sensitive computer coding from hacking, electromagnetic breach or others…

Lets illustrate the above point with the following case study: A powerful government has developed a military system that can launch ground-to-air missiles from any location in the field. This system is powered by an auxiliary power unit which makes all the systems including  launch, guidance and safety operational; it is without saying that there is no room for error and power failure is not an option.  While detailed safety procedures and complex military style hierarchy are in place to prevent accidental launch of the missiles, there is always the very small probability that something else may happen (e.g. a bird crash lands on the power system). In the event of a hit, or other types of system breach a range of safe proof backups are in place:

  • 3 backup generators all running on different fuel types and in different locations of the unit;
  • In addition to the strong metal outer shell, inner generators are protected by other shells and at least one of them by an iron Kevlar coating, one by a full fire proof coating and another one by a high shock absorbing and waterproof design.
  • In case of a failure of any of the systems an inbuilt programme initiates a safe auto-shutdown procedure which ensures no electrical leak can transmit to the missiles and locks the system.
  • As well as many other in built backups

Are you managing critical systems that cannot afford failure? If so, perhaps consider the protective shell approach and remember that no matter how good a risk management strategy is there is always the possibility of an unforeseen failure that requires a backup plan…

More information: here

What is Biomimetics: the field of gaining inspiration from nature first to solve some of our most difficult challenges. Instead of coming up with our own solutions to a problematic, the odds are that species on the planet already offer an ultimate solution. This simple fact is also another strong case to preserve species at all cost as the intellectual heritage contained within or through the study of species is both irreplaceable and invaluable…

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