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What We Can Learn (and Totally Copy) From Nature? Understanding Biomimicry

Humans have the capacity to be incredibly inventive and creative in ways that continue to inspire our willful evolution. But we're sometimes our most ingenious when we don't come up with original ideas at all. When we've mimicked effective systems established in nature, we've found some of our most resourceful and efficient tools for modernity. It's a method called biomimicry, and you're hopefully going to see a lot more of it soon.

Over the course of our evolution, many modern cultures took to the belief that the natural world was a buggy, humid nuisance. Beyond the dining room table display of freshly plucked flowers or strolls through parks of trimmed trees, nature was generally seen as an inhospitable condition of the earth, a virus-like infestation that a little concrete and brick could eventually rectify. Indigenous cultures that lived harmoniously with the earth were seen as primitive, unevolved, and at an unfortunate disadvantage. We wore powdered, itchy wigs and stuffed our feet into uncomfortable, pointy shoes—of course our thinking was a tad bit deranged. Nonetheless, our intelligence seems to be prevailing now, and with that, an understanding that nature is—and always has been—an excellent teacher. It creates no waste. It relies on technologies more advanced than anything we can dream up to communicate, propagate, and protect life.

The Biomimicry Institute says that's the core idea behind biomimicry "is that nature, imaginative by necessity, has already solved many of the problems we are grappling with." One of the greatest examples of biomimicry is something you're likely very familiar with: Velcro. Developed by a Swiss engineer in the 1940s, the idea came about after simply removing burrs from his dog's fur. While how we produce Velcro on the mass-scale is another discussion altogether, the ability to mimic an efficient system in nature is quite valuable in advancing our species and in how we care for the planet.

Other recent examples of biomimicry include a Japanese engineer who looked to a bird beak to overcome the noise of the country's bullet train system when exiting tunnels. The way the human ear coverts sound waves into electrical signals was the inspiration for MIT researchers working on a radio chip for certain wireless devices.

But it's not just the high-tech world of MIT engineers that can benefit from looking to nature. While much of our food supply is still produced in wasteful and destructive monocrop and factory farm industrial fashions, permaculture management systems are becoming more commonplace. Just as nothing is wasted in the natural world, food systems can be streamlined by composting, planting complimentary plants that shade others, and working with insects and animals to feed, protect, and nourish the system. These methods are not only less wasteful, but they're more nourishing, too. Monocropping can destroy soil, making it difficult to grow anything after just a few seasons. Industrial factory farming pollutes the air and water and leads to highly infectious diseases and contamination risks. But proper soil management and integration of animals can provide endless and highly nutritious seasons of fresh and healthy food.

Likewise, our modern healing systems can look to nature for clues as to how best heal, treat, and prevent certain ailments. Whether it's using technology from a gecko to make better contact lenses, or recognizing that the cure to something often grows right next to the disease (like poison oak and jewelweed), nature provides continuous clues to how we can best equip ourselves to sustain our species and do so with as little destruction as possible. more about Jill Ettinger

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