What Have the Principles of Engineering Taught Us about Biological Systems? 2
Engineering principles such as integral control and robustness were found to be implemented in diverse biological systems. Nature has so far proved to be a superior inventor and innovator over us. While it is fruitful to
comprehend biological complexity in terms of engineering principles, perhaps a fascinating question in the near future would be ‘‘what can biological systems teach us about engineering (and physics and mathematics)?’’
While biological systems appear to be ad hoc in many ways, the more we begin to understand them, the more we begin to see engineering principles of abstraction, modularity, redundancy, self-diagnosis, and hierarchy. By viewing seemingly random biological design ‘‘decisions’’ through an engineering lens, we have found powerful patterns, intricate mechanical mechanisms, and evolved modularity.
Biology is transforming engineering, as evidenced by the new discipline of Biologically Inspired Engineering, which seeks to leverage biological principles to develop new engineering innovations
Natural designs are simple, functional, and remarkably elegant. Biology is a great source for innovative design inspiration. By examining the structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, and distribution of living entities, biology contributes a whole different set of tools and ideas that a design engineer wouldn't otherwise have. Biology has greatly influenced engineering. The intriguing and awesome achievements of the natural world have inspired engineering breakthroughs that many take for granted, such as airplanes, pacemakers and velcro. One cannot simply dismiss engineering breakthroughs utilizing biological organisms or phenomena as chance occurrences.
Governing mechanobiological principles that have been uncovered permits the development of new engineering innovations. 3
The level of control that organisms exercise over the materials properties of structural inorganic biomaterials is unparalleled in modern engineering. Even more tantalizing is the organisms’ ability to form multifunctional materials that are optimized to perform structural, optical, mechanical and other functions – almost unrelated from the engineering point of view. These properties originate from a sophisticated structural design achieved by the interplay between inorganic minerals and organic biological macromolecules. 4
Often nature’s solutions to engineering problems are so different from our conventional ways of thinking that the most fruitful way to investigate them is not immediately obvious.
Natural systems frequently exploit intricate multiscale and multiphasic structures to achieve functionalities beyond those of man-made systems. Natural biological systems are constrained by a limited number of chemical building blocks, yet through practical material organization and mechanics1, fulfil the functional needs of diverse organisms by methods that often exceed what is currently achievable using man-made approaches. Many natural systems and materials have solutions that result in a number of improved properties simultaneously (for example, high modulus with high fracture toughness), and often produce systems that fulfil multiple functions concurrently. There is great potential in using these myosin engineering and manufacturing techniques in formalizing design approaches13,79 to construct biomimetic devices, such as smart contractile materials, molecular sensors and nano-actuators with optimized responses. Natural systems with mechanofunctionality can inform engineering endeavours far beyond simple material selection.5