Nature’s Nanotechnology

Nature has evolved many different mechanisms to produce a broad range of specialized biomolecules such as lipids, proteins, DNA and polysaccharides that are essential for life and the world around us. In most cases, not only the chemical composition of the molecules, but also their structure, must be very specific and uniform to have the molecules perform their proper biological function.

We often look to Nature for exquisite examples of sophisticated bio-nanotechnology that we can only hope to emulate or mimic in the laboratory. This is referred to as bio-mimicry or biologically inspired engineering. Prominent examples of this include Velcro (emulating the tiny hooks on burrs), water repellent surfaces (emulating the lotus leaf ), photonic crystals (emulating the iridescence of butterfly wings), and bio-responsive hydrogels.

It is also possible to directly exploit bio-molecules and bio-processes produced and used in Nature, which has been called bio-klepticism (stealing from Nature) by Ned Seeman. In this way, Nature does all of the hard work in producing the molecules of interest, and we can use them in a range of different applications. An example of this is nanotechnology based on DNA origami. PhytoSpherix™ nanoparticles are another very promising example of bio-klepticism: particles produced by corn with special properties that can be exploited in a wide variety of applications in the personal care and cosmetics industry.