Biomimetic file 174: Bacteriological Storage

Why planning ahead is important to avoid reaching the critical saturation point

content-1465829651-shutterstock-149312621Image: anyaivanova/Shutterstock.  Colonies of bacteria. The critical saturation point* is here defined by the point beyond which an activity/service/business can no longer be sustained because the very core on which it depends has reached its limit.

Highlight:“as revealed in a new paper in Science, colonies of bacteria have been converted into information-storing critters – or, to put it another way, biological hard drives…this new technique is able to encode roughly 100 bytes of data, a 73-fold increase in storage capacity…Rather than synthesizing DNA and cutting it into a living cell, the study wanted to know if it was possible to use nature’s own methods to write directly onto the genome of a bacterial cell…This way, if the bacterium replicated as it normally would, the information would be copied down through the generation. When this data is stored in a hard drive that could theoretically keep increasing in size over time, scientists could read it by examining its genome any time they wished, using any of the bacteria in the colony…”

Insight: The future of information storage will depend on biological systems and a good reason for that relies on the fact that we are simply reaching physical capacity of many materials currently in use for storage devices. This means that we can no longer (or at least not much longer) miniaturize and/or improve storage capacity due to the properties of the elements.

A recent study came up with the chocking discovery that we could in fact store the entire data generated by our civilization to date (and that is a lot of information!) in a single drop of fluid containing strands of DNA. If we put this point into the current context of the hundreds or thousands of major data centers around the world and the enormous amount of energy being used to power them, that offers a lot of hope not just in terms of storage capacity but also sustainable development.

There is only so much that conventional technology can achieve towards improving current systems and many of them are heading towards their limits. It appears evident that natural systems are an unavoidable part of the solutions going forward in what could be seen as a fifth revolution…

In business, favorable situations are rarely to last and determining the saturation point can be a difficult but a necessary exercise. Large scale examples would include aspects such as natural resources on which many businesses depend entirely (e.g. oil reserves, various metals…). While some companies would spend fortunes trying to assess this critical point in order to know until when the business can continue to operate without major restructuring, smaller issues for many companies are usually not dealt with the same level of concern resulting in simply not knowing where the critical saturation points stands…

Examples of processes and aspects which may be reaching a problematic saturation point:

  • Microprocessors and their processing power;
  • Fiber-optics and their ability to transport a certain amount of data;
  • Binomial computer codes;
  • Certain highways and their ability to take-in traffic effectively;
  • Batteries and their ability to handle heat;

Does your business deal with certain elements that are prone to reach their limits? If so, perhaps ensure to know (or a least try to better understand) where the critical saturation point stands and meanwhile prepare an alternative plan to take over once this point is about to be reached….

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 or natural systems 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…

bluestrike logo

http://www.bluestrike-group.com/

Biomimetic file 151: Energy Storage

Mushroom inspired batteries can significantly increase their lifetime

Mushrooms_2377969b

Image source: ALAMY

Highlight: “Existing lithium-ion batteries use graphite for the anode, which requires a high standard of purification, accounting for a significant portion of the cost. Graphite anodes also degrade relatively quickly, interfering with long-term storage capacity. The ideal replacement would contain plenty of salt to act as an electrolyte, be porous enough to leave plenty of space to hold lithium and could be grown naturally…A team at the University of Riverside have met success with the skins of Agaricus bisporus…the humble mushroom has been roped into service in one of the great technological quests of our time, to extend the lifespan of batteries…”

Insight: On one hand species can provide solutions to gain inspiration in order to improve current systems. On the other, there are now several case studies that demonstrate that it is possible to directly combine living systems with engineered processes. The concept implies more reliance on ecosystem services in order to achieve better outcomes.

A simple successful example already well established is water purification processes relying heavily on bacterial activity combined with mechanical elements.  A not so successful example is an artificial kidney used in dialysis treatment which is very expensive and far from being as efficient as a natural kidney organ.

This business model provides new challenges such as maintaining the durability and stability of the living part of such systems but also new opportunities to achieve things that are simply not possible or unsustainable given our current technologies. The simple point here is why always rely on technology when complex tasks could be carried out more effectively and at a cheaper cost through available ecosystem services already optimized for specific tasks?

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…

main

www.biodiversity.sg

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…

bluestrike logo

www.bluestrike-group.com

Biomimetic file 138: Seashell-Inspired Material leading A New Wave Of Safety Gear In Sport

Seashell-Inspired Material leading A New Wave Of Safety Gear In Sport

Picture source: Andy Alderson

Highlight: “Sheffield Hallam University has been developing improved materials for impact protection in sports. The materials have the fascinating and unusual auxetic property (i.e they expend instead of contracting under shock) that can be used in helmets, pads, guards, gloves, mats and barriers…the inspiration for the current work on auxetic materials for improved impact protection equipment in sports comes from the ultimate natural armour protection system: the humble seashell.”

Insight: Some species in the animal kingdom have highly adapted exoskeletons that not only support their structure but also act as a protective armour against the elements and predators. The combination of light weight and strength are two aspects commonly found in species skeleton structures. The properties in certain species structures (down to the molecular level) such as shrimp shells or oysters  have already led to practical innovations in sectors such as aerospace or construction where the strength/weight ratio of materials is a rising challenge. It is likely that the inspirations for future structures and materials will be found within species…

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…

www.biodiversity.sg

Biomimetic file 111: New Superhydrophobic Surface Inspired By The Eye Of A Fly

New Superhydrophobic Surface Inspired By The Eye Of A Fly

Hydrophobic surfaces is driving a lot of attention right now from various teams around the world. The aim is to develop surfaces that are effectively kept dried under different exposure conditions. The stakes are high, indeed economically viable technologies that would allow do do this have a range of big business applications. One of them being anti drag solutions for the shipping industry, a patent that could be worth billions.

“Superhydrophobic surfaces have a diverse range of applications in industry. They can be used in clothing and footwear such as boots and jackets to protect them and make them waterproof. They can be applied to underwater vessels such as submarines to reduce drag, or boats to prevent fouling and protect against the growth of marine organisms. They could also be used in electronics to prevent corrosion. The list goes on- they’re handy materials.”

AAEAAQAAAAAAAARBAAAAJDE4YWVkNDY5LWUwY2EtNDg0MS1hNmFjLTM5NGY0NWEyZDMyZQ

photo credit: Sun et al., Small

More information at: http://www.iflscience.com/technology/new-superhydrophobic-surface-inspired-eye-fly

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…

http://www.biodiversity.sg