Biomimetics is all about design – intelligent design, mimicking the superb designs found in nature. Why, then, are some scientists claiming evolutionary theory is where the biomimetic beef is?
Gecko toes: the impossible dream. PhysOrg titled an article in big, bold print: “How sticky toepads evolved in geckos and what that means for adhesive technologies.” Based on a paper in PLoS ONE (Gamble T, Greenbaum E, Jackman TR, Russell AP, Bauer AM (2012) Repeated Origin and Loss of Adhesive Toepads in Geckos. PLoS ONE 7(6): e39429. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0039429), PhysOrg filled its coverage with the e-word evolution or its derivatives no less than 15 times. The amazing thing, though, is that believing the research paper requires accepting the authors’ claim that geckos “evolved” their intricate toe pads that allow them to walk on walls and ceilings multiple times: “Geckos have independently evolved their trademark sticky feet as many as 11 times, and lost them nine times, according to research published June 27 in the open access journal PLoS ONE.” The lead author, Tony Gamble (U of Minnesota) seemed astonished himself at the gecko’s luck in the mutational lottery: “To discover that geckos evolved sticky toepads again and again is amazing,” he exclaimed.
What, exactly, does evolutionary theory contribute to the engineers who want to copy gecko technology? It’s not apparent how speculating about gecko habitat changes in the unobservable past would help a design engineer, nor does this statement by a co-author of the paper: “The loss of adhesive pads in dune-dwelling species is an excellent example of natural selection in action.” Where does he put that on the design specifications, if he is trying to use intelligent design? Maybe this statement about repeated evolution will help:
Repeated evolution is a key phenomenon in the study of evolutionary biology. A classic example is the independent evolution of wings in birds, bats and pterosaurs. It represents a shared solution that organisms arrived at separately to overcome common problems….