Entrepreneurs of the Natural World
Showcase Their Groundbreaking Solutions to the
Environmental Challenges of the 21st Century
Nature's 100 Best Initiative
Publishes Preliminary Findings on How to Green the
Ninth Conference of the Parties
to the Convention on Biological Diversity 19-30 May
28 May 2008, Bonn/Geneva/Nairobi
- A super-small pacemaker modeled on the wiring of
the humpback whale's heart and pigment-free colour
coatings from the light-splitting structures of a
peacock's feather are among a range of extraordinary new
eco-breakthroughs emerging from mimicking nature.
advances, inspired by natural world and its close to
four billion year-old history of "research and
- Vaccines that survive without
refrigeration based on Africa's 'resurrection' plant.
- Friction-free surfaces suitable
for modern electrical devices gleaned from the slippery
skin of the Arabian Peninsula's sandfish lizard.
- New antibacterial substances
inspired by marine algae found off Australia's coast
that promise a new way of defeating health hazardous
bugs without contributing to the threat of increasing
- Toxic-free fire retardants, based
on waste citrus and grape crops inspired by the way
animal cells turn food into energy without producing
flames - the so called citric acid or Krebs cycle.
- A pioneering water harvesting
system to recycle steam from cooling towers and allowing
buildings to collect their own water supplies from the
air inspired by the way the Namib Desert Beetle of
Namibia harvests water from desert fogs.
- Biodegradable, water-tight
packaging and water-repellant linings for pipes to tents
that mimic the Australian water-holding frog.
These are just some of inventions,
innovations and ideas at the centre of a new
collaborative initiative called Nature's 100 Best.
The initiative is the brainchild of
the Biomimicry Guild and the Zero Emission Research and
Initiatives (ZERI) in partnership with the UN
Environment Programme (UNEP) and IUCN-the International
Union for the Conservation of Nature.
It is aimed at showcasing how
tomorrow's economy can be realized today by learning,
copying and mimicking the way nature has already solved
many of the technological and sustainability problems
confronting humankind. According to Janine Benyus and
Gunter Pauli, co-creators of the Nature's 100 Best
project, "Life solves its problems with well-adapted
designs, life-friendly chemistry, and smart material and
energy use. What better models could there be?"
The Nature's 100 Best List, a
mixture of innovations at various stages of
commercialization from the drawing board to imminent
arrival in the marketplace, is set to be completed by
October 2008 in time for the IUCN Congress in Barcelona,
Spain. The Nature's 100 Best book will be published in
Today the collaborators and
partners unveiled some of the preliminary projects and
products being included on Nature's 100 Best from an
original list over 2,000.
It coincides with the ministerial
part of the Convention on Biological Diversity meeting
taking place in Bonn, Germany where up to 6,000
delegates and over 190 governments are meeting to slow
the rate of loss of biodiversity.
Achim Steiner, UN
Under-Secretary-General and UNEP Executive Director,
said: "Biomimicry is a field whose time has come. Anyone
doubting the economic and development value of the
natural world need only sift through the extraordinary
number of commercially promising inventions now
emerging-inventions that are as a result of
understanding and copying nature's designs and the
superior way in which living organisms successfully
manage challenges from clean energy generation to
re-using and recycling wastes".
"There are countless reasons why we
must accelerate the international response and the flow
of funds to counter rapidly eroding biodiversity and
rapidly degrading ecosystems: Nature's 100 Best gives us
100 extra reasons to act and 100 extra reasons why
better managing biodiversity is not a question of aid or
an economic burden but an issue of investing in the
non-polluting businesses, industries and jobs of the
near future," he said.
Janine Benyus, head of the
Biomimicry Guild added, "Biomimicry is science at the
cutting edge of the 21st century economy and based on
3.8 billion years of evolution. Indeed the way nature
makes novel substances; generates energy and synthesizes
unique structures are the secrets to how humans can
survive and thrive on this planet."
Gunter Pauli, head of the Zeri
Foundation based in Geneva, added: "Steam and coal
transformed the 19th century; telecommunications and
electronics, the 20th. We are now on the edge of a
biologically-based revolution and in some of the
inventions showcased under this new initiative will
undoubtedly be the business models for the new Googles,
Welcomes, Unilevers and General Electrics of the modern
age. With over one billion Euros already invested in the
most important technologies this is a trend in
innovation for industry to follow" he said.
Humpback Heart Pacemakers
Over 350,000 people in the United
States alone are fitted with new or replacement
pacemakers annually. The cost of fitting a new device is
up to $50,000 per patient.
Enter Jorge Reynolds, Director of
the Whale Heart Satellite Tracking Program in Colombia,
whose research is unraveling the mysteries of how the
Humpack's 2,000-pound heart pumps the equivalent of six
bath tubs of oxygenated blood through a circulatory
system 4,500 times as extensive as a human's.
The work is also pinpointing how
this is achieved even at very low rates of three to four
beats a minute and how the electrical stimulation is
achieved through a mass of blubber that shields the
whale's heart from the cold.
The researchers have, through
listening devices called echocardiographs and via
autopsies on dead whales, discovered nano-sized 'wires'
that allow electrical signals to stimulate heart beats
even through masses of non-conductive blubber.
The scientists believe the findings
could be the key to allowing the human heart to work
without a battery-powered pacemaker and to stimulate
optimal heart beats by by-passing or 'bridging' dead
heart muscle via special whale-like wiring.
The world-wide market for
pacemakers is expected to reach $3.7 billion by 2010.
The new invention could cost just a few cents to make;
reduce the number of follow-up operations because it
avoids the need to install new batteries and thus
supplant the traditional pacemaker.
Two million children die from
vaccine-preventable diseases like measles, rubella and
whooping cough each year. By some estimates, breakdowns
in the refrigeration chain from laboratory to village
means half of all vaccines never get to patients.
Enter Myrothamnus flabellifolia - a
plant found in Central and Southern Africa whose tissues
can be dried to a crisp and then revived without damage,
courtesy of a sugary substance produced in its cells
And enter Bruce Roser, a biomedical
researcher who along with colleagues recently founded
Cambridge Biostability Ltd to develop fridge-free
vaccines based on the plant's remarkable sugars called
The product involves spraying a
vaccine with the trehalose coating to form inert spheres
or sugary beads that can be packaged in an injectable
form and can sit in a doctor's bag for months or even
Trials are underway with the Indian
company Panacea Biotech and agreements have also been
signed with Danish and German companies.
The development, based on mimicking
nature, could lead to savings of up to $300 million a
year in the developing world while cutting the need for
kerosene and photovoltaic powered fridges.
Other possibilities include new
kinds of food preservation up to the storage of animal
and human tissues that by-pass storage in super cold
The two main ways of reducing
friction in mechanical and electrical devices are ball
bearings and silicon carbide or ultra nano-crystalline
One of the shortcomings of silicon
carbide is that it is manufactured at temperatures of
between 1,600 and 2,500 degrees F - in other words it is
energy intensive involving the burning of fossil fuels.
The synthetic diamond product can
be made at lower temperatures and coated at temperatures
of 400 degrees F for a range of low friction
applications. But it has drawbacks too.
Enter the shiny Sandfish lizard
that lives in the sands of North Africa and the Arabian
Peninsula and enter a team from the Technical University
Studies indicate that the lizard
achieves its remarkable, friction-free life by making a
skin of keratin stiffened by sugar molecules and
The lizard's skin also has
nano-sized spikes. It means a grain of Sahara sand rides
atop 20,000 of these spikes spreading the load and
providing negligible levels of friction.
Further tests indicate that the
ridges on the lizard skin may also be negatively
charged, effectively repelling the sand grains so they
float over the surface rather like a hovercraft over
The researchers have teamed up with
colleagues at the Science University of Berlin and a
consortium of three German companies to commercialize
the lizard skin findings.
The market is potentially huge,
including in micro-electronic-mechanical systems where a
biodegradable film made from the relatively cheap
materials of kerotene and sugar and manufactured at room
temperature offers an environmentally-friendly "unique
Superbugs and Bacterial
Resistance - Australian Red Algae to the Rescue?
Seventy per cent of all human
infections are a result of biofilms.
These are big congregations of
bacteria that require 1,000 times more antibiotic to
kill them and are leading to an 'arms race' between the
bugs and the pharmaceutical companies.
It is also increasing antibiotic
resistance and the rise of 'super bugs' like methicillin
resistant Staphylococcus aureus that now kills more
people than die of AIDS each year.
Enter Delisea pulchra, a feathery
red alga or seaweed found off the Australian coast and a
team including researchers at the University of New
During a marine field trip,
scientists noticed that the algae's surface was free
from biofilms despite living in waters laden with
Tests pinpointed a compound - known
as halogenated furanone - that blocks the way bacteria
signal to each other in order to form dense biofilm
A company called Biosignal has been
set up to develop the idea which promises a new way of
controlling bacteria like golden staph, cholera, and
legionella without aggravating bacterial resistance.
Products include contact lenses,
catheters, and pipes treated with algae-inspired
furanones alongside mouthwashes and new therapies for
vulnerable patients with diseases like cystic fibrosis
and urinary tract infections.
The bacterial signal-blocking
substance may also reduce pollution to the environment
by reducing or ending the need for homeowners and
companies to pour tons of caustic chemicals down pipes,
ducts and tanks and onto kitchen surfaces to keep them
By 2025, the United Nations
forecasts that 1.8 billion people will be living in
countries or regions with water scarcity and two thirds
of the world's population could be under conditions of
Climate change is expected to
aggravate water problems via more extreme weather
events. Many intelligent and improved management options
can overcome these challenges and one may rest on the
extraordinary ability of the Namib Desert beetle.
The beetle lives in a location that
receives a mere half an inch of rain a year yet can
harvest water from fogs that blow in gales across the
land several mornings each month.
Enter a team from the University of
Oxford and the UK defense research firm QinetiQ. They
have designed a surface that mimics the water-attracting
bumps and water-shedding valleys on the beetle's wing
scales that allows the insect to collect and funnel
droplets thinner than a human hair.
The patchwork surface hinges on
small, poppy-seed sized glass spheres in a layer of warm
wax that tests show work like the beetle's wing scales.
Trials have now been carried out to
use the beetle film to capture water vapour from cooling
towers. Initial tests have shown that the invention can
return 10 per cent of lost water and lead to cuts in
energy bills for nearby buildings by reducing a city's
heat sink effect.
An estimated 50,000 new
water-cooling towers are erected annually and each large
system evaporates and loses over 500 million litres.
Other researchers, some with
funding from the US Defense Advanced Research Agency,
are mimicking the beetle water collection system to
develop tents that collect their own water up to
surfaces that will 'mix' reagents for 'lab-on-a-chip'
Notes to Editors
Nature's 100 Best is a compilation
of 2,100 of the most extraordinary technologies and
strategies found in nature that are being mimicked or
The 100 Best List will be launched
at the IUCN World Conservation Congress in Barcelona,
Spain in October 2008.
At the same time the Biomimicry
Institute will unveil AskNature.org, an online database
of biological knowledge organized by engineering
function in order to engage and inspire entrepreneurs
Biomimicry Guild and Institute
Ninth Conference of the Parties to
the Convention for Biological Diversity in Bonn
Case studies from today's
preliminary launch and more details on Nature's 100 Best
The book will be available through
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