Nature, the world’s new factory

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Nature has always been more efficient at making products than Man but now we’re harnessing it for our own ends

Most people would agree we still have much to learn from nature. Nature is vastly more efficient at recycling and reusing matter than humans have been. The whole field and study of biomimicry is built on emulating nature’s principles of form fitting function.

But we’ve also begun moving in the other direction too—redesigning nature to suit our own purposes. In fact, we’re already beginning to create whole new species of organisms.

In a recent interview with Forbes, Jason Kelly, founder of Gingko Bioworks, said that the company plans to create new species of bacteria whose purpose is to make a particular chemical. For example, a French fragrance company has commissioned Gingko Bioworks to grow rose oil (in a bacteria) so they don’t have to squeeze it from flower petals.

According to Kelly, it makes sense to use bacteria instead of other manufacturing processes because living cells “are far more efficient at using energy than man-made manufacturing processes.”

 

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And this doesn’t have to stop with lifeforms as tiny as bacteria. All around the natural world, we witness life forms which, driven by the programming of their DNA, produce massive, complex things from tiny beginnings.  As George Church suggested, “A minuscule fertilised whale egg produces an object as big as a house. So maybe one day we can program an organism, or a batch of them, to produce not the whale but the actual house.”

Neri Oxman of MIT, also imagines a world where instead of building, we’ll be able to grow more.

In her TED talk, Oxman outlines the tension between the chisel and the gene, as she says; the tension between building with traditional tools and building with nature.

A tension that will likely become more and more prevalent as the field of synthetic biology matures and more engineers, designers, and entrepreneurs have the option of choosing between manipulating genetics or man-made materials to achieve their goals.

Oxman says we’re approaching “a new age of creation, that takes us from a nature-inspired design to a design-inspired nature, and that demands of us for the first time that we mother nature.”

 

About author

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin, described as “The Adviser behind the Advisers” and a “Young Kurzweil,” is the founder and CEO of the World Futures Forum and the 311 Institute, a global Futures and Deep Futures consultancy working between the dates of 2020 to 2070, and is an award winning futurist, and author of “Codex of the Future” series. Regularly featured in the global media, including AP, BBC, CNBC, Discovery, RT, and Viacom, Matthew’s ability to identify, track, and explain the impacts of hundreds of revolutionary emerging technologies on global culture, industry and society, is unparalleled. Recognised for the past six years as one of the world’s foremost futurists, innovation and strategy experts Matthew is an international speaker who helps governments, investors, multi-nationals and regulators around the world envision, build and lead an inclusive, sustainable future. A rare talent Matthew’s recent work includes mentoring Lunar XPrize teams, re-envisioning global education and training with the G20, and helping the world’s largest organisations envision and ideate the future of their products and services, industries, and countries. Matthew's clients include three Prime Ministers and several governments, including the G7, Accenture, Bain & Co, BCG, Credit Suisse, Dell EMC, Dentons, Deloitte, E&Y, GEMS, Huawei, JPMorgan Chase, KPMG, Lego, McKinsey, PWC, Qualcomm, SAP, Samsung, Sopra Steria, T-Mobile, and many more.

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