Scientists and engineers continue to find well-designed features in living things that are worth imitating.

Get a tail:  Extinct velociraptors, the terrors of the Jurassic Park movies, are inspiring robot designers.  Live Science and PhysOrg told about how Tailbot, developed at UC Berkeley and modeled after “leaping lizards,” can right itself after stumbling and can jump without tumbling.  “Engineers quickly understood the value of a tail,” said Thomas Libby, a grad student involved in the development of Tailbot.  “Robots are not nearly as agile as animals, so anything that can make a robot more stable is an advancement, which is why this work is so exciting.”  The PhysOrg article includes two entertaining video clips showing the robot clumsily attempting to duplicate the leaps a lizard does naturally (Tailbot’s attempt might be described as “falling with style”).  Prof. Robert J. Full remarked, “Inspiration from lizard tails will likely lead to far more agile search-and-rescue robots, as well as ones having greater capability to more rapidly detect chemical, biological or nuclear hazards.”

Good design in bad water:  A briny pond at the lowest spot in the western hemisphere has a simple but descriptive name: Badwater.  Yet in this pond in Death Valley lives a microbe worth noting.  Science Daily says the “Death Valley Microbe May Spark Novel Biotech and Nanotech Uses.”  Why is that?  Dennis Bazylinski (U of Nevada) is impressed at the ability of the microbe to orient itself to magnetic fields.  The magnetic bacterium BW-1 has genes that produce nano-sized crystals of the minerals magnetite (a form of iron oxide) and greigite (a form of iron sulfide); BW-1 is the first microbe isolated capable of synthesizing greigite.  Bazylinski sees treasure in these microbes: their magnetosomes make them “useful in drug delivery and medical imaging.”  The article states that “Magnetotactic bacteria are simple, single-celled organisms that are found in almost all bodies of water.”  They can’t be that simple, though, to do what they do: “As their name suggests, they orient and navigate along magnetic fields like miniature swimming compass needles.”

Insect cuticle for the environment:  “Researchers at the Wyss Institute for Biologically Inspired Engineering at Harvard University have developed a new material that replicates the exceptional strength, toughness, and versatility of one of nature’s more extraordinary substances—insect cuticle,” reported PhysOrg….

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