Mimicking Mother Nature

Using the environment not as an exploitable resource, but as a source of inspiration

by Andy Isaacson

Five years ago, while he was harvesting mussels on the Pacific coast, Kaichang Li, a wood science and engineering professor at Oregon State University, marveled at how the mollusks were able to cling to shoreline rocks even when they were being pounded by ocean waves. Later, munching on a bowl of tofu, Li started to think about how the small threads the mussel uses to anchor itself contain a protein that functions as a sort of adhesive. He had a revelation: Amino acids could be added to soybeans—a protein-rich, locally abundant crop (not to mention a tasty lunch)—to create a water-resistant, all-natural bonding agent.

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