Introduction

8 Healthy Biomimicry Breakthroughs

Amanda Page Mar 15th, 2013 (updated Oct 15th, 2014)
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By imitating nature’s forms, scientists have been engineering new devices to help keep us healthier. Here are some ways the unmatched efficiency of nature has been copied to advance medicine.

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Porcupine quills
Porcupine quills

Researchers recently analyzed porcupine quills as a potential model for better needles and adhesives.  What’s so intriguing about porcupine quills is their ease of entry, yet difficult extraction.  Scientists believe the quills could be the key to less painful needles for injections and also better internal adhesives.   Researchers are already creating adhesive patches with barbed quills on one side that provide good adhesion as well as easy removal. 

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Sharkskin
Sharkskin

The most famous adaptation of sharkskin was the creation of swimsuits that competitors such as Michael Phelps wore during the 2008 Olympics.  They proved so effective that they’re now banned in major competitions.  What made the suits so effective was the ability of scientists to replicate the overlapping scales in sharkskin known as dermal denticles.   The “denticle” technique now is being applied to hospital surfaces to help fight bacteria growth.  

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Elephant trunk
Elephant trunk

The flexibility and wide-range of movements of an elephant trunk have inspired a new robotic arm.  The elephant trunk comprises 40,000 muscles, making it incredibly strong, even though it contains no bones.   Scientists used this premise to develop a new bionic arm that can aid the handicapped or assist with heavy lifting in the agriculture business, among other applications.  

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Mussels
Mussels

Mussels possess the unique ability to attach to wet, solid surfaces such as rocks, fish, and boats and are able to withstand strong wind and even waves.  The medical industry has turned to mussel-inspired adhesives made of soy to aid in surgery.  

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Sandcastle worm
Sandcastle worm

The sandcastle worm lives in a mineral shell that it creates by secreting a glue-like substance that sticks to bits of sand.  The glue doesn’t dissolve in water, is able to displace water, and solidifies almost immediately.  Such properties appealed to medical professionals looking for new ways to repair broken bones.   For decades, doctors have been treating shattered bones with screws and pins -which aren’t always effective. 

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Gecko eyes
Gecko eyes

Geckos have a multifocal optical system, which means light from a variety of wavelengths can enter the retina at the same time. And that makes their eyes 350 times more sensitive than humans.  Geckos also have the rare ability to see colors as night. These discoveries have engineers interested in developing more effective cameras and possibly even multi-focal contact lenses to not only combat vision loss, but enhance our vision abilities.    

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Woodpecker beaks
Woodpecker beaks

The skull of a woodpecker sure takes a beating.  Fortunately, evolution has provided the bird with a curved body and tail to brace the impact and a strong, oversized beak to protect the brain.  These insights could potentially lead to better shock-absorbing helmets, earthquake resistant buildings, and more focused and efficient jackhammers for construction workers.  

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Cicada wings
Cicada wings

Researchers have just discovered that the veined wings of the Clanger cicada are the first known example of a natural biomaterial that destroys bacteria on contact. The wings use their own physical structure, unaided by bioloical or chemical agents to tear bacteria apart.  Researchs hope to mimic these properties with a new antibacterial material tha can be used in public places.