What can we learn from Nature?

By Adrian Ong

How many of us look at the common house gecko (Hemidactylus frenatus) or house lizard, wonder if they will fall off from the ceiling in our bedrooms and land in our mouths when we are sound asleep at night?







Geckos are known to have the ability to attach themselves to walls and be able to move vertically or upside down with ease. The secret is the adaptation on their toes that allow them to adhere to surfaces. The pads on a gecko’s feet have numerous seta or “bristles”. These seta have many even finer projections called spatula.








In 2000, research by Professor Robert J. Full at the University of California, Berkeley, discovered that the adhesion was due to van der Waals forces created between the spatulae and the surface. For any Science student, the term van der Waals force is not unfamiliar and is regarded as one of the weaker forces of attraction in chemical bonding. Who would have thought that the sheer numbers of the spatula and close proximity with the contours of any hard surface would allow a mature gecko that weights 70 g to be capable of supporting a weight of up to 133 kg!

This has definitely caught the attention of scientists and drove research towards the development of dry adhesives. Innovations that are currently being studied include methods to seal wounds without using stitches or even technology to allow humans to scale walls.

It is one thing how humans can emulate adaptations in organisms to drive innovation. However, it is another to derive lessons in investment economics from the growth of bacteria!


Screenshot - BBC News - Bacteria give lessons in investment economics

In a paper published in Ecology Letters, the authors made use of experimental testing and mathematical modelling to draw parallels between bacterial growth in Petri dishes to the stock market and trading floor. Externally imposed “market conditions”, represented by changing salt and acid contents of their environment, influenced the outcome of the “investment decisions” made by each bacterium, with success rewarded by survival, and failure leading to extinction.

This is interesting because this is one of few instances when Science can be seen as being relevant to fields like business and economics. So maybe the next time we diss scientific research as being boring and irrelevant to the real world, we can think about the multitude of lessons that can be drawn from Nature and seemingly uninspiring organisms like the gecko and bacteria!



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