The book Biomimicry: Innovation Inspired by Nature by Janine Benyus describes theoretical technological innovations that are inspired by nature and natural processes. The author argues that many of current technologies and attitudes are unsustainable (Benyus 13). She draws attention to specific current ecological problems, such as the increasing carbon dioxide (CO2) levels in the atmosphere and rising ocean levels (Benyus 68). Ultimately, Benyus argues that technology that is inspired by natural processes should be developed as a means of addressing these issues, and provides examples of such technologies.
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The unifying theme of the theories outlined in the book is observing natural processes and trying to harness, adapt, or imitate them to create technologies that would bring benefit to humanity at large. Benyus explains that some of these processes, while evident, are not fully understood yet. She goes into detail describing the challenges that current research must overcome to make these theories practical.
For instance, the research into imitating or replicating photosynthesis to generate power is significantly complicated by the fact that this reaction occurs at a scale too small to reliably observe (Benyus 83-84). However, the potential utility of this technology exceeds that of simply generating electricity and includes applications in biochemistry, pharmaceutics, and computing (Benyus 88-91). While the challenges are severe, they are surmountable (the evidence is nature itself), and the benefits of such technology, if it can be perfected, would be significant.
In another chapter, Benyus explains how a more direct observation of natural processes can direct scientific inquiry. She describes animals responding to nutrition and health deficiencies by seeking out specific plants or soil they would not eat otherwise (Benyus 168). By following up on such observations, scientists were able to identify compounds that can be used in medicine (Benyus 169).
More than the other theories outlined in the book, this approach demonstrates the practical applicability of biomimicry in general. Furthermore, it is a strong argument for increasing ecological preservation efforts, as seemingly innocuous species can be the source of, or allow to isolate more useful compounds.
Biomimicry can solve existing problems in novel, efficient, and sustainable ways. These are presented as the key benefits of biomimetic approaches, as the natural materials, they seek to replicate have the advantage of being biodegradable and produce little harmful waste in the process. Therefore, utilizing such nature-inspired methods can be a significant step towards resolving the current anthropogenic ecological crises such as increasing CO2 production and recycling.
However, the book does not address the relevant concerns that can arise from adopting biomimetic techniques. For example, the above artificial photosynthesis example does not address the fact that the organisms used for it are alive and may not be as energy-efficient as promised. Furthermore, it can severely limit their applicability in regards to, for example, the temperature range. Finally, while a living organism can, ideally, be self-maintaining and self-replicating, it can also have unforeseen requirements to its conditions. These issues need to be considered before the practicality of biomimetic theories can be evaluated.
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Overall, Biomimicry exposes an original avenue of potential research and innovation. These present an alternative to the currently dominant principles that are worthy of further investigation. However, while the subjects of these theories and proposals are described in sufficient detail, the argumentation for why they should be pursued further is inconsistent. Primarily, while the descriptions are optimistic, little consideration is given to the potential drawbacks or limitations of their application.
In general, the book makes a case for the research it advocates, but does little to compare it to the dominant theories or explain why this research would be preferable. Ultimately, I find that Biomimicry is a strong introduction to its theories, but does little to convince the reader to pursue them.
Benyus, Janine. Biomimicry: Innovations Inspired by Nature. HarperCollins Publishers, 1997.