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BioMimicry and Organic Farming

December 20, 2009

Imagine being able to use spider web in place of Kevlar, or in place of the cables of a suspension bridge. Or using a sealant based off of the lotus plant on your shower walls, and never having to clean your shower again. These are only a few of the exciting innovations biomimicry makes possible.

Biomimicry is the utilization of designs, systems, materials, or processes originating in nature and applying these to human use. The application of such is often more sustainable and more efficient than similar human attempts. Current examples of biomimicry include Velcro, passive cooling (inspired by termites), and Gecko Tape. There’s a list of 15 of the coolest examples of biomimicry available here. As exciting as the current list is, the upcoming potential is far greater.

This blog post is about the use of biomimicry in crop growth, possibly one of the greatest impact and furthest reach in this area. Currently most crops are grown in a field as a homogenous species. Row after row and field after field of a mono culture. These crops are often rotated, meaning that for several years in a row they will use one single field to grow these crops, when that field becomes nutrient depleted they switch to another field following the same practice and patterns but allowing the first field to nutritionally recharge. The fields are often fertilized regularly, and the crops are covered in insecticides, pesticides, herbicides, fungicides and any other pest inhibiting, growth promoting products.

Obviously the above described practice does not happen outside of the human influence, there is no location untouched by man where you would see one particular crop planted as a single species switching growth locations. Instead what you see in the natural process is year after year of multiple species, bio diverse, pesticide free, insecticide free, and herbicide free plants thriving. This type of farming where nature is being mimicked can and is currently being introduced to many organic farms.

Studies have also revealed that the yields of these organic farming practices can be comparable to those of more conventional practices, however with the reduction in pesticide and fertilizer applications and therefore the reduction in cost associated with those inputs. As a result, organic farmed product can generate higher profits.

The list of additional resources for biomimicry is small but growing quickly. To get started do a search for the following terms:

Bioneers:  Also known as the Collective Heritage Institute, a New Mexico-based nonprofit organization promoting practical and innovative solutions to environmental and social problems based in a philosophy which recognizes the aliveness, interdependence, and intelligence of the natural world.

Bionics:  Also known as biomimetics, bio-inspiration, biognosis, biomimicry, or bionical creativity engineering is the application of biological methods and systems found in nature to the study and design of engineering systems and modern technology.

You can also take a look at Nature’s 100 Best List to view a collection of these technologies, or submit your own.

More resources:

Wikipedia
Science in School – spidersilk
Cotton Day – biodiversity

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