"It is true, and thus the question of whether it is sad or happy has no meaning whatever."
Bernhard Schlink

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Friday, November 18, 2005

Nature Does It Better 

We humans are pretty clever, for a bunch of walking masses of improbability (unless you're a creationist, in which case we're pretty clever for being some deity's side-project). The thing is, that for all the things we think we've got figured out, nature has pretty much already been there and done that. Two examples: fighting the flu and building LEDs.

In the panic about a possible Avian flu pandemic, the drug Tamiflu has emerged as a potentially effective treatment. The active ingredient in Tamiflu is not some synthetic wonder of modern medicine, but a remedy people have been using for millennia: star anise. And this sudden heightened interest in star anise is quickly changing lives of many in China, but it also has the potential to punctuate the importance of 'traditional' remedies: things that people have known work since long before controlled trials and spectrographic analyses. Who knows where the next cure will be hiding?

In attempting to develop a more efficient LED, researchers have found that they've already been beaten to the punch. Butterflies have had high-emission LEDs on their wings for, well, longer than there were people thinking about LEDs, to say the least. Again, this is part of why not only conservation but also interdisciplinary work are so important: think how much work could be saved if engineers and builders knew better how to look at nature to see what's been done already and how. Nature is brutally efficient: it's a good bet that if something evolved that way, it's a pretty good way to do it.

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