University of Washington
It has taken biological systems and physiological processes millions of years to evolve with the precise properties and functions they have today. Engineers have only recently developed an appreciation of the sophistication of biological systems, and they are looking to them for inspiration in the rational design of materials and systems. By studying and mimicking complex biological structures and processes, engineers can now design materials and devices with novel features and enhanced properties to help solve problems in a wide variety of disciplines, from health care to small-scale electromechanical devices. In this session, the presenters highlight bio-inspired, biomimetic, or bio-derived technologies and innovations and look ahead to what the future may hold in this field. The connecting thread among these talks is the diverse role biology plays in contemporary engineering, as bio-derived or bio-inspired technologies are pivotal to novel engineering solutions in a number of fields.
A revolution in health care is expected in the near future when low-cost genome sequencing for individuals becomes a reality. The first talk, by Mostafa Ronaghi (Illumina), highlights engineering challenges in the analysis of genetic variation, gene expression, and function. Addressing these challenges involves mimicking and exploiting biological recognition and/or function with detection at high fidelity. For example, single nucleotide discrimination through nanopores is possible under an applied field that mimics the highly versatile ion channel.
The challenges to bio-inspired engineering are many, but the benefits will be tremendous in determining mechanisms of disease, drug candidates, and clinical molecular diagnostics. Advances will lead not only to faster screening and detection of diseases, but also to the tailoring of therapeutics based on an individual’s genetic predisposition to disease, or personalized medicine with individualized
therapeutics. The efficient, effective delivery of therapeutics to the patient will be inherent in these developments. Thus, the next talk, by Efie Kokkoli (University of Minnesota), focuses on controlled, targeted drug delivery, specifically using biology in the design of targeted therapeutics. Delivering the optimal amount of therapeutic to the right place at the right time is a significant goal.
The final, capstone talk, by Henry Hess (Columbia University), is on how biomolecules can be used as motor-powered devices in systems, whether the system is the cell itself or whether biomolecules are used to provide an actuation mechanism on a micro/nano-electromechanical (MEMS/NEMS) device.