Stealing from nature: Incredible new tech inspired by biology

Updated 12:43 PM EDT, Wed May 28, 2014

Story highlights

Technology has long learned from nature -- but now it's going micro

"Cellular biomimicry" sees designers take inspiration from plant and animal cells

It's already helping prevent spam emails, filter drinking water, and provide energy

(CNN) —  

When the body comes under attack by flu, dendritic cells rush to the site of infection and identify the alien forms attacking it. Millions raise the alarm and the immune system is fired into action.

It is a reliable and effective response, and what is good enough to protect our health has also proved capable of safeguarding inboxes. Artificial immune systems (AIS) based on the body’s cellular response to disease are being used to target spam.

’It’s an adaptive system that can be more nuanced in detecting what’s dangerous”, says Dr. Uwe Aickelin, professor of computer science at the university of Nottingham and leading AIS developer. “Millions of pieces of information are gathered so the cells are very accurate.”

While the cells in our bodies will respond to signals such as stress and inflammation, Aickelin’s software analogue picks up on the traffic bombardments associated with spam. While generic filters can cope with conventional phishing, the cellular system is suited to a user facing frequent new threats, and has been employed by leading security companies.

04:10 - Source: CNN
Making sea water drinkable

This model represents a potentially transformative shift in the rapidly expanding field of biomimicry. The trend for nature-inspired designs has spread across industries from crab-style deep-sea vessels to insect-inspired buildings, and is projected to generate $1.6 trillion by 2030 according to Da Vinci Index. But now technologies based specifically on cellular designs are making nature itself the driving force.

In addition to computing, cellular biomimicry is making its mark in water filtration, meeting President Nixon’s historic challenge to make the oceans drinkable, using a membrane present in humans and plants.

Meanwhile, photosynthetic processes are being applied to the capture and storage of solar energy, while millions of dollars have been invested in applying the properties of lung cells to building exteriors – the ‘Eskin’ - to create a layer that allows them to interact efficiently with both people and the environment.