This year, for the first time UNDP Accelerator Labs – in partnership with the Biomimicry Institute in the United States and a number of Ukrainian NGOs – invited innovators, engineers, designers, and inventors to participate in the Biomimicry Global Challenge, an international contest supporting biomimicry-based solutions. Discovering and promoting biomimicry pioneers in Ukraine has, of course, been complicated by the sudden COVID-19 crisis, and biomimicry has moved down a level of priority in our work.
Still, biomimicry is as relevant to the health of our planet as it was before the COVID-19 pandemic. Over millions of years of competition and adaptation, nature has produced the ultimate medicines and design solutions. For example, a chemical compound found in the dogfish shark that protects it against viral infections could be of use in our response to the COVID-19 crisis.
What can we learn from nature during the COVID-19 crisis?
The detection of viruses is difficult and time consuming, and even impossible in some cases. Living cells, however, are capable of detecting even faint traces of molecules with their sensitive biochemical receptors. Mimicking the way receptors work, and having them induce a macroscopically visible colour change, could allow the instant detection of molecules associated with pathogens and other chemicals. Find out more about biosensors here.
One of the greatest shortages facing the healthcare field at the moment involves PPE - personal protective equipment. We need better materials (and more of them) to create these lifesaving products, and we need faster, easier, cheaper, and more efficient ways to manufacture them. What if we could mimic the way nature produces materials - for example taking CO2 from air and turning it into biomass - like trees do? Innovators from Novomer, have already tried that and created polymers that contain up to 50 percent CO2 by mass, which also helps lock up this harmful greenhouse gas.
Plastic in medical waste is a big contributor to the plastic waste problems we have today. By developing a biodegradable alternative to plastic, we may be able to create an alternative material for PPE and also other uses (such as packaging). Natural insect cuticles, such as those found in the rigid exoskeleton of a housefly or grasshopper, could be an inspiration for a “new plastic” providing protection without adding weight or bulk. Find out more here.
As the COVID-19 virus can survive on surfaces for some amount of time, there is also a need to regularly disinfect surfaces. There is a type of red seaweed that exudes an antibacterial film that protects it from infections. What if we could develop similar antiviral films?
Sixth mass extinction
Ironically, just as we are starting to look for more nature-inspired solutions, we are also destroying them at great speed. ¨It’s a race against ourselves – humans and the sixth mass extinction of the world’s biodiversity¨. Before we lose it all, we may need to rethink the value of nature and find time to observe and ask nature all those questions about new drugs, surfaces, PPE and so on.
Inspired by a blog A Quiet War: Using Biomimicry in the Time of Coronavirus by Christa Avampato, Biomimicry institute
Want to learn more about biomimicry?
Read our blog about The secrets of biomimicry and wisdom in nature, as well as about a nature-based revolution in Ukraine. And join our Social Media group to follow the results of the Ukrainian Round of the Global Biomimicry Challenge
Text: Oksana Udovyk, Head of Experimentation, UNDP Accelerator Lab Ukraine
Editing: Euan MacDonald, Communication Unit, UNDP Ukraine