Atul’s A-Z of Biomimicry

Updated: 17 January 2021

P is for Peregrine Falcon

Woof! Is that biomimicry? Sort of. But this article goes far deeper than mimicking animal noises. Here I look at how learning from wildlife and emulating nature can bring medical and technological advances to man’s best friend’s best friend: humans.

Each image on the left is of nature. Each image on the right is the (potential) biomimicry application.

A is for Axolotl, the only vertebrate able to regenerate its limbs, spine, heart and other organs throughout its life. Scientists are researching how to apply the genetics to humans with lost limbs.
B is for Basking Shark, which filter feeds on zooplankton. Their filters are helping to advance anticlogging filters. Designers are mimicking their ability to prevent particles building up.
C is for Carpet Tile. Forest Floors have inspired an approach to carpet tiles that minimises waste at the installation stage. Gecko feet have also been emulated in carpet tile adhesive design.
D is for Dragonfly. Dragonfly wings’ ability to deal with turbulence is informing the design of drones and micro air vehicles. They are also inspiring the next generation of wind turbines.
E is for Eider Duck. The down feathers of eider ducks provide excellent thermal insulation due to their ability to fluff, combined with their light weight. Eider down is either used or mimicked in duvets and clothing for extreme cold environments.
F is for Flight. Wildlife continues to advance flight technology, such as engineers studying albatross, insects, bats and sharks. Self-healing materials inspired by nature are being developed to revolutionise flight safety.
G is for Gecko, which can climb walls in ways that humans are keen to emulate. Their layered toe pads create a force based system of adhesion that sustains over time. Medical tape, plasters and stitches are being developed to mimic this approach.
H is for Humpback Whale. Small bumps along the leading edge of humpback whale pectoral fins improve lift and agility, and reduce drag. This is being mimicked in wind turbine and plane wing design.
I is for Impala, which sometimes graze in symbiosis with puku. Impala have strong sight, puku have strong hearing. Together they look out for predators. As Liz Wainwright writes in The Ecologist, biomimicry can include symbiosis in politics and partnerships.
J is for Jellyfish, one species of which is immortal. Eventually something might eat it, but that’s not the point. Scientists are now scrambling to apply the genetics to humans. Details in Article 5 on this web page.
K is for Kingfisher, whose beak informed the design of bullet trains. Prior to mimicking kingfishers there were loud booms when bullet trains used tunnels. Copy the bird, problem solved. Plus: efficiency increased.
L is for Lamprey. The lateral wiggle of the lamprey is being studied to increase efficiency of movement through water. Lamprey skin sensors are also informing nanorobot design to find disease in the human body.
M is for Moth. Moth eyes have a lens structure that means less light is reflected and more is captured. This was successfully mimicked in a new design for more efficient solar panels.
N is for Needle. Needles have been designed to cause less pain after a lesson from mosquitoes. Microneedles mimic the double needle of the mosquito, enabling reduced pain for injecting or taking blood samples.
O is for Owl. Owls rely on silent hunting to capture prey. Their silence is made possible by sharp edges to their wings, which break up the air turbulence that usually makes noise. Researchers are mimicking this for wind turbine and fan designs.
P is for Peregrine Falcon. Peregrines have evolved nose cones that protrude from their nostrils, deflecting air away from the nasal passage and preventing lung damage. Engineers mimicked the cones to slow air flow into jet engines.
Q is for Queen Bee. From Aristotle to management consultants, queen bees have been teaching humans about leadership in organisations. Examples include clarity, distributed authority and succession planning.
R is for Reef. Corals are stationary animals and therefore evolved chemical defences, which have already been used to treat cancer and HIV. Coral reef plants and animals continue being mimicked to develop treatments for viruses, bacterial infections, arthritis, Alzheimer’s, heart disease and other diseases.
S is for Spider, the silk of which is not stronger than steel in all senses, but is on a per weight basis. Scientists are more interested in the production method: whilst humans throw energy into making steel, spiders make silk efficiently at ambient temperatures.
T is for Termite. Termites build mounds that regulate temperature and circulate oxygen, using tunnels and chimneys rather than electricity. Architects are researching how to emulate this approach as one of many solutions in the climate crisis.
U is for Urchin. The sea urchin jaw has been mimicked in designs that could be used in space exploration, such as grabbing materials from the surface of Mars. Urchin spines are also inspiring stronger cements, leading to the prospect of pillars up to five miles high.
V is for Velcro. The prickly heads of burdock plants, burrs, easily catch on to fur as part of their dispersal strategy. A dog walker in 1941 noticed that burrs also catch on to clothing, and the hook and loop fastening known as Velcro was invented.
W is for Wood Frog, which is able to freeze to get through winter, and reanimate in spring. If scientists can mimic this for humans it will advance organ transplants and cryonics, transforming life expectancy and interstellar travel.
X is for X-Ray. Lobsters have a unique vision system that is being replicated to develop X-rays that can see through steel, wood and concrete. Applications include airport security, archaeology, astronomy and dark matter research.
Y is for Yellow Boxfish. A cautionary ‘tail’: Mercedes-Benz mimicked the yellow boxfish for a concept car in 2005, aiming to combine a spacious body, stability and low drag. However, later analysis showed the overall benefits of the yellow boxfish’s evolution require their natural combination with their tail, toxic skin and other complex trade-offs.
Z is for Zebra. Black stripes absorb light and white stripes reflect light. This creates convection currents that cool zebras, as emulated in new air conditioning system designs. Zebra camouflage can also be disruptive to the viewer, and has been mimicked by military ships.

Atul Kumar
Updated: 17 January 2021


No brainers! What jellyfish and Cliff Richard have in common. 

Updated: 4 December 2020

Daily Topic

I was watching ‘Life’ on BBC1, narrated by Sir David Attenborough, and was fascinated to learn that jellyfish have no brains!

Jellyfish are captivating creatures, and a reminder that we do not need to look into outer space to find exciting beings that are wildly different to humans. Want to see an alien? We have them right here on Earth.

Jellyfish have a loose network of nerve endings known as a nerve net. They react directly to food and danger stimuli via nerve impulses, without a brain to process them. It remains a mystery how they can process this information without a brain.

Scientists have recently been jumping over themselves in a frantic ‘jellyfish research scramble’, with funding justified on the basis of their increasing populations and resultant contact with humans.

And now they have found something truly astonishing.

An immortal jellyfish has evolved, and is swarming through the world’s oceans. Its numbers are rocketing because it can reproduce, but need not die. Eventually something might eat it, but that’s not the point.

Turritopsis nutricula may be the world’s only immortal creature.

It’s the only known animal that is capable of reverting completely to its younger self. Instead of dying after reproducing, like other jellyfish, it reverts to a juvenile polyp of sexual immaturity and rejuvenates itself. A far better deal.

It does this through a cell process of transdifferentiation, where cells transform from one type to another. The switching of cell roles is usually seen only when parts of an organ regenerate. However, it appears to occur normally in the Turritopsis life cycle. Scientists believe the cycle can repeat indefinitely, rendering it potentially immortal.

This tiny creature is just 5mm long, and is the focus of many marine biologists and geneticists, to see exactly how it manages to reverse its aging process and achieve eternal youth.

Learning from wildlife, copying nature and applying the concepts to humans, is known as biomimicry. Just imagine if scientists could reverse ageing in humans after copying the genetic trickery of Turritopsis nutricula. 

Or they could just ask Cliff Richard.

Atul Kumar
Updated: 4 December 2020 

Sources and thanks to:



10 positive environmental actions you can take from the Alien Places book  

For more about Alien Actions, visit the Alien Actions page of this website. 

Updated: 3 December 2020

We can turn things around. 

Alien Head - GIF

The introductory Arrival chapter of the Alien Places book is effectively an article in itself about solutions to environmental challenges. If you haven’t already, please have a look at the Alien page of this website.

As explained in Arrival, the book isn’t intended as a comprehensive list of environmental actions you can take. It works at the stage before that. It aims to re-wire the human mind, collectively and individually, to totally change how we think, so that we actually take positive environmental actions. Not just talk about them.

The book aims to help us all to think not from a human perspective, but from an alien perspective. Specifically, an alien that acts as if it wants its species to stick around. Real sustainability, in other words. Not just for the next few years, but to think much bigger. What if we want our species to be around for billions of years? Or trillions of years?

At 12 pages, some might consider Arrival to be a bit of a lengthy preamble. It wasn’t accidental. We can’t achieve a thinking revolution in a few short paragraphs or a tweet. It needs to be deeply embedded.

Others have eloquently listed specific environmental actions we can take. What I hope to add to the environmental sector with Alien Places is the reconfiguration of our brains, so that we actually do those actions. Not find reasons not to.

Nevertheless, the book refers to a number of positive environmental actions you can take. Without giving spoilers of the story, here are my top 10:

1. Cairo

In Cairo the alien learned about water as the basis of life on our planet. Use water wisely, and you’ll be helping the environment, wildlife and your water bills.

2. Los Angeles

In Los Angeles I drove the alien around in a hybrid, convertible car. If you can afford it, make your next car a hybrid, or fully electric.

3. Ho Chi Minh City

The alien and I visited a clothing factory. Buy eco fashion, such as clothing made from organic cotton, and / or produced in factories powered by renewable energy. Shameless plug: an example is the Alien clothing range!

4. Beijing

The alien and I counted humans going to the toilet in a restaurant in Beijing. Very normal behaviour, I hear you remark. The positive environmental action? Think about population vs consumption with greater depth than an average pub chat – hence this mini article within Alien Action 4

Total human consumption, rather than consumption per capita, is the physical driver of, for example, deforestation. Physically, trees are felled for burgers due to total demand for burgers, not demand per capita.

Humans consume just by staying alive: eating, basic education, plastic for the dialysis machine, health care, sanitation, going to the loo, etc. Per capita is a separate question: in total, regardless of per capita, the fact is there’s a lot of wee to process on Earth. Processing all that wee requires vast consumption of materials, plastics, energy, chemicals, etc. It’s not about how much you wee, because most humans wee within certain, how can I put it…volume parameters. It really is more about the sheer number of humans, all weeing a little bit.

This is what I would call ‘minimum viable consumption’ (MVC), and is often forgotten. It is an inevitable level of consumption, and is distinct from discussion of frivolous stuff like, for example, PlayStations. Add to that the many worthwhile but non-essential aspirations that involve varying degrees of consumption, such as relaxation methods, holidays and travel, and it becomes unrealistic and detrimental to stop humans aspiring for enriching experiences. In other words: it’s not simply about who consumes how much today; it’s also about who aspires to consume how much in future. Social justice requires us to allow that MVC per human, in order to lift and keep billions of humans out of poverty.

MVC x 10 Billion = several Earths. MVC, and the fact of having one Earth, are non-negotiable. Therefore, thus, ergo, QED: the middle bit of the equation is the only thing left to reduce. Our deeper-than-pub chat concludes we need fewer than 10 Billion humans.

Controlling total human population, alongside incremental reductions in consumption per capita, which cannot collapse due to the moral requirement for MVC, is therefore the realistic, moral, sustainable and underlying opportunity to resolve all environmental problems.

Far more moral and humane to have fewer humans, all meeting MVC plus limited ability for non-essentials, than to have many humans, some of which meet neither MVC nor non-essentials. Believe and raise awareness of this. Support charities that work on this directly, or indirectly via education and empowerment of women in developing countries.

Or as I like to sum up: ‘there’s too much wee’.

5. Queensland

The alien registered to vote in Australia, and voted for the Greens. If you do the same, many of our environmental problems can start to be resolved.

6. Geneva

On a Friday the alien helped to hold a banner made by school strikers protesting about climate inaction. Show your support for the climate protesters, or join them.

7. Amazon Rainforest

Rainforest is cut down to make space for cattle, so humans can eat them. Eat less meat, and there will be less deforestation, more carbon dioxide removed from the atmosphere, and more wildlife.

8. Easter Island

Diversity is important. Take a range of different environmental actions, rather than just one type of action.

9. Challenger Deep

The alien accidentally dropped a plastic bag, and we raced it to the bottom of the world’s oceans. Reduce your use of single-use plastic. Join a beach clean event, information about which is in Episode 4 of the Atul’s Earth podcast.

10. Antarctica

Simple legal bans were behind the environmental success stories of the past, such as the ban on CFCs. Support campaigns to banish fossil fuels to niche corners of society.

Atul Kumar
23 December 2019


Shifting into reverse, or driving forward

Published: 2 February 2020

On 1 February 2020, the day after Brexit, one of the words trending on social media was #Thick.

It was a reference to the question of competence when it came to deciding whether to vote for Brexit, or for remaining in the EU.

Conceptually, #Thick raises the broader question of one’s ability to make a sensible decision when voting. Is it unthinkable to discuss this issue, or are there positive consequences when we think this through logically and dispassionately?

A useful analogy is perhaps driving. Put simply: we don’t have an automatic right to drive. We must pass a test. Keeping people who fail the test off the road is not negative or authoritarian. It’s a positive, literally life-affirming thing to do for society.

Just as we all need to pass a test before driving, so perhaps we should all need to pass a test before voting.

Just as we take basic driving lessons, maybe we should take basic voting lessons.

Just as we celebrate reaching a minimum standard to get our driving licence, so we might also celebrate reaching a minimum standard to get our voting licence.

I remember the written element of my driving test. It had a wonderful, possibly sarcastic question with wording similar to the following:

As you are driving, an elderly lady starts crossing the road ahead of you. She then stops walking, blocking the path of your vehicle. Should you:

A: Accelerate hard.
B: Panic.
C: Release the steering wheel.
D: Apply the brakes carefully and firmly, bringing your vehicle progressively to a safe stop.

Notice that there was a right answer. It was not OK to put anything other than D.

We are currently living through what I’d describe as an ‘opinion crisis’ in our current culture. Greta Thunberg has referred to this concept several times, speaking with visual disgust at the word ‘opinion’ when used to justify environmental inaction and disagreement with climate physics. David Mitchell, on The Graham Norton Show in 2019, worried that this crisis is now at a point whereby, if someone has an ‘opinion’ that a red traffic light means GO, some people might nowadays genuinely argue that we should respect that opinion. In 2019, we had to listen to ‘Flat-Earthers’. This, David lamented, was about whether or not we ‘cease to progress’ as a society. Whether we now decide to shift into reverse gear, or decide to drive forward.

We should respect all people on a basic humanitarian level, but that doesn’t mean respecting all ‘opinions’, regardless of how physically dangerous they are.

Referring back to the driving test question: notice that the correct answer was also the longest option. More words. It was not a two or three word slogan. It was not an oversimplification. Being responsible sometimes needs more words to articulate the situation.

You can imagine the equivalent question in a written ‘Voting Test’:

You have an election in your country. Do you vote for the candidate or party who:

A: Lies to you.
B: Plans to harm you.
C: Maximises social and environmental destruction.
D: Aligns social, economic and environmental strategies to meet planetary and human needs for current and future generations.

Notice that options A, B and C, in both sets of questions above, are uncontroversially ridiculous. They are designed to pre-empt a descent into relativism. Very obviously, we should not pass either test if we put A, B or C.

For those who ‘disagree’ that D is the answer to put for both questions above:
No driving to a polling station for you.

For those who put D for both answers:
Your L plates are off: happy voting!

Atul Kumar
2 February 2020

Suggested song to accompany this article: Licence To Kill by Gladys Knight

To learn more about how I use music to communicate environmental solutions: visit the Music page of this website, click the links below or search on Spotify for:


For my article about nuclear fusion as a solution to the energy crisis and climate change, please see the Minnie page of this website.


Article published in Cornwall Today Magazine:

Atul Srivastava - Review Published in Cornwall Today

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