The Science of Biomimicry

by / Wednesday, 17 February 2016 / Published in Green Building Consulting
biomimicry consulting

The Science of Biomimicry:

How to Use Nature’s Teachings to Thrive

The science of Biomimicry recognizes that we have strayed too far from the wildlife that we’ve coevolved with and asks for a return to the source. Those who practice it observe what other life forms have done to survive and then apply the underlying principles to solve human scenarios. The thought is that nature has been improving its foundation for the last 3.8 billion years and we should take some design cues from it. The science is backed by a philosophy of learning from nature instead of taking from it, engaging with nature instead of separating ourselves from it.

Janine M. Benyus is the catalyst behind the Biomimicry movement. Though there were innovative practitioners before she coined the term, Benyus articulated what was going on and championed its progression. Her 1997 book “Biomimicry; Innovation Inspired by Nature” explains the tenants of Biomimicry and provides real life examples. Since that book, Benyus with a team of scientists have started the website AskNature, a compendium of companies and products that have used biology as muses, as well as facts about specific species to spur future innovations. This basis for innovation has caught the attention of the USGBC and in 2016 Benyus became one of the USGBC’s directors- her term being the next three years.



AskNature is a bastion for innovation. Click the moth to see if any sparks fly: The Science of Biomimicry_Ask Nature logo

Prime examples of how people/companies are turning to Biomimicry to heal the planet and ourselves are: The Sea Water Green House, Sharklet Technologies, & Columbia Forest Products’ Purebond.

Biomimcry and Sea Water Greenhouse

The Sea Water Greenhouse uses Biomimicry to reverse desertification. It is the basis for the Sahara Forest Project, which not only grows crops in the desert but also generates energy through CSP solar panels. Architect of the Sahara Forest Project, Michael Pawlyn explains that during the age of Julius Caesar the Sahara Desert was covered with Cypress and Cedar Trees. It was the colonization of the land that lead to desertification. However, the Sea Water Greenhouse and the Sahara Forest Project demonstrate that life can be regenerated even in barren landscapes.

The Sea Water Green House is a passive technology that allows plants to grow in arid/dry climates. The design is based on the Namibian Beetle’s ability to hydrate itself by condensing and collecting moisture from the air. Its black shell attracts moisture and its hydrophobic and hydrophilic texture keeps it there. After enough condensation has accrued the beetle tips the water into its mouth by flipping up the sides of its back.

Similarly, the Sea Water Green House is made of evaporative grills which bring cool air and condensation to the plants inside. In the case of the green house, moisture begot moisture. As the plants grew they emitted their own moisture through evapotranspiration. Eventually this combined amount of condensation hit a tipping point whereby the greenhouse was not only providing water for the plants inside, but was creating an excess amount of it. The surplus was used to hydrate the surrounding area. In a year’s time it was covered with greenery.

This close looped system works within the confines of the environment and the interconnected nature of ecosystems. Instead of importing tons of water to a desert that would normally never have it, the Sea Water Green House utilizes the moisture that is already there. The system sustains itself and in so doing conserves one of our most valued resources. Imagine how much water California could save if it applied the tenants of the Sea Water Greenhouse to the grassy lawns and golf courses of LA and Palm Springs?

To listen to Pawlyn’s cool TED talk on Biomimicry click here or on the image below, the Sea Water Greenhouse, and to visit the Sahara Forest Project click here


The science of Biomimicry


What are Sharklet Technologies?

As the name implies, Sharklet takes its inspiration from sharks. Sharks avoid infection from bacteria by virtue of the infinitesimally small bumps on its skin. Bacteria simply can’t stick to it. In an effort to reduce hospital acquired illnesses (of which 20-40% come from surfaces), Sharklet technologies looked to the microtopography of shark skin to develop an adhesive film that would prevent bio-adhesion. Sharklet’s micro-pattern was successful. The Journal of Microbiology and Experimentation stated that Sharklet reduced bacterial transmission on surfaces by a factor of 5.4 as compared to unpatterned film. In 2014 Sharklet was named by the state of Colorado as a biotech company to watch. PBS News Hour highlighted Sharklet as a technology that can be affective in helping prevent the proliferation of super bugs.

As opposed to toxic antimicrobial agents which target a range of specific bacteria but don’t really work, Sharklet simplifies the problem by addressing how organic matter attaches itself. Surfaces cannot be contaminated if the contaminants cannot stick to them. Sharklet uses no additives, chemicals, antimicrobials, or antibiotics. Similar to shark skin, it is the pattern alone that achieves the goal. 


Columbia Forest Products: PureBond

Columbia Forest Products’ PureBond is a formaldehyde free FSC certified plywood whose binding agent is based on the marine adhesive proteins of the blue mussel. Professor Li and his team at Oregon State University observed that mussels produce a protein that allows them to stick to underwater surfaces. Transferring this idea to soy protein, Dr. Li modified the plant’s amino acids to resemble that of the blue mussel. The result was an adhesive that contained zero vocs (except for vocs naturally found in wood), has no added urea-formaldehyde (wood naturally contains formaldehyde), and according to the EPA was superior to urea-formaldehyde resin in “strength and water resistance.” In 2007 the EPA awarded Columbia Forest Products the “Greener Synthetic Pathways Award”, for reducing hazardous air pollutants, and reducing more than 47 million pounds of toxic urea formaldehyde resin in just one year.


Why should we be limited to what our own minds can conjure up when we have the rest of the planet? If we apply the technologies of the natural environment to the built environment we can mimic a system that is closed loop, synergistic, non toxic, and resource abundant- pretty good goal. Who knows, perhaps if we achieve this, the line between the natural and the built will be forever blurred- but I will save this philosophical debate for another day.

Katie Bachner provides Green Building & Healthy Material  and Biomimicry consulting for HBS. To learn more about how this service can help your next project click here  





22 Responses to “The Science of Biomimicry”

  1. The Science of Biomimicry | Eden Project says :

    […] just completed reading The Science of Biomimicry on Healthful Creating Science. Please consider leaving a […]

  2. Art Klein says :

    Congratulations Ms Bachner! Its wonderful to see what we can learn from nature and give back to it.

  3. Dee Robinson says :

    A truly insightful piece, and coming at an appropriate time, we spend millions in this world trying to get things right while ignoring the natural world around us. “Go to the ant thou sluggard consider, her ways and be wise”, from the Proverbs of Solomon. perhaps we should take note!

  4. The Science of Biomimicry | Bio-Inspired Design... says :

    Examining the science of Biomimicry and how to use natures teachings in green building design to thrive.

  5. Lynn Lehmkuhl says :

    This is the most encouraging thing I have read about in a very long time. How exciting to imagine that the concept of biomimicry might spread into every aspect of our lives. Thank you Katie for exposing your readers to this fascinating endeavor.

  6. Diane Epstein says :

    I have always believed that so many answers are right in front of us if we spent more learning from nature. Working with the US Green Building Council will be a major endorsement for getting your work in the field of bio mimicry into the mainstream. Congratulations!

  7. Harlan says :

    You go girl and keep writing and reporting so eloquently on such an important topic !

  8. Katie Bachner says :

    Thank you all for such insightful comments. I think that we forget that we are not separate from nature but are rather extensions of nature. Our ability to create tools to shape our surroundings is part of what it means to be human. Biomimicry is a prime example of how technology can be both advanced yet also rooted in the building blocks of life. Please feel free to share any projects, products, and/or stories, that you feel embody this science.

  9. Marion Benedek says :

    Enjoyed your comprehensive, enlightening article. Awareness is only the beginning……….

  10. Marion Benedek says :

    Your insights were terrific. Awareness is a big factor, & only the start……….
    Thank u for your comprehensive , well written article.

  11. Randy Schenkman says :

    I love and agree with the idea of looking back to make things easier for the future. It still seems that we can’t (and probably never will be able to) beat Mother Nature!

  12. Lore Kent says :

    Greetings Katie:

    There was a time, a very long time ago, that mankind lived in harmony with Mother Earth. The way mankind existed in harmony with Mother Earth was by watching how other species interacted with Mother Earth and would then “mimic” those patterns. There was a time when all sentient beings had a purpose and lived for that purpose and mankind worked along with Mother Nature and had a “purpose” as well. Yet for a long, long time, humanity has forgotten its purpose and has not been learning from or “mimicking” Mother Earth.

    It’s time for us to return once again to living symbiotically with the planet and studying, learning and mimicking Mother Earth. Mankind is more advanced, brighter and technologically able to do so much–we have the ability to create so much greatness! Yet in order for that to occur, we have to care more about Mother Earth and mankind than power and greed. We have to care about humanity and the existence of everything that lives and breathes on this planet–everything that flies, swims, grows and roams this planet-every source of life on this planet has to be precious and that preciousness has to take priority to everything else. When mankind is ready to make that energetic shift, we will have the ability to align with Mother Earth, learn from Mother Earth and mimic her very best attributes!

  13. Lore Kent says :

    Hey Katie:

    What a wonderful article, and so true! Humanity somehow has forgotten that we, too are connected to every aspect of nature, from the ebb and flow of the tides, to the impact of every season. Every specifies of flower and fauna, every animal on the planet, every insect, bird and everything living in the sea-everything lives for its purpose and the greater good of “Mother Earth”–except of course for mankind. There was a time when mankind was, in fact very plugged into “Mother Earth” and as you mentioned “mimicked” the earth. Not only did we “mimic “Mother Earth”, we blessed the earth for everything that it provided for us.

    Unfortunately, that was a long time ago. We’ve got to make our way back to “learning” from Mother Earth and what better way to do that than to study, learn and “mimic” how other species successfully exist, regenerate and multiply!

    No doubt, we have the ability to “mimic” and create so many aspects of Mother Nature–yet in order to do that, we have to “value” the planet and put the on-going existence of the planet and mankind before our “profit based” “do whatever we have to do to squeeze out that extra penny for our shareholders” mentality! Probably won’t happen in my lifetime, yet there’s a shot that with more and more awareness from young people such as yourself, working from the bottom up, we can “energetically” start to create a shift from the “profit based mentality” to aligning our interests and learning from Mother Nature!

  14. Nancy Ney says :

    Great article. It gives some hope for the planet in the face of global warming and the rising seas.
    If we increase awareness with these kinds of programs we can start a revolution! We have to work toward the goal of keeping the reactionary republicans from winning the presidency and taking us back to where we were 20 years ago.

  15. Barbara says :

    Fascinating info here.
    And while it seems elementary that we would turn to natural elements to fortify
    and sustain our ecosystem, we are submerged under the weight of toxic texts
    and material madness. Just as green building took two decades to realize its goals, so bio mimicry necessitates a voice. Keep talking.

  16. Paul Amsterdam says :

    This is fascinating information. The idea of looking at what Evolution has done (for those of us smart enough to believe in it) and selectively using those natural solutions for various species, to solve modern day environmental issues is extraordinarily refreshing. Hope many more take this direction in the future.

  17. Carol Tannen says :

    What a wonderful concept, Katie! As a social worker offering Equine and Pet Assisted Psychotherapy, my clients benefit from the sensitivity and ability of horses, cats and dogs to tune in to people’s feelings. Expanding the idea of getting back to nature is something I believe in and agree with. I hope this process gains momentum and support world wide!

  18. Jane Newman says :

    Thanks for the glimpse into new strategies for efficient building and conservation developed by harnessing and recycling the natural world. Now the challenge is to figure out how to manufacture expensive prototypes efficiently so world populations will be able to afford the innovation and invest in technology. This is especially important in light of currently falling fossil fuel prices. Bring it on!

  19. Ricky Solomon says :

    Great blog! I read science articles every day and I see more and more of what could be termed biomimmicry. I see it in product design and even in biotechnology.

  20. Katie Bachner says :

    Thanks Laurie, I feel the same way !

  21. Laurie Drucker says :

    Once again humanity has the opportunity to reap yet another gift from Nature. Instead of desecrating our earth we can now tap into it. All we have to do is get the word out so those who have the knowledge to take advantage of this new technology will do so for all our sakes

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