Slimbridge Dowsing

SLIMBRIDGE DOWSING GROUP REPORTS (No. 122)

Bio-Mimicry with Professor Hugh Barr*


If you have ever had a biopsy, you will know that removing bits of you can be uncomfortable, to say the least, and then you wait ages for the results. And although they can access breasts and prostates (ouch), and various body fluids, there are no-go areas, notably the back of the eye and the brain.

According to our amusing and dynamic speaker, Professor Hugh Barr, on Thursday, 14th January, one day in the not too distant future, by copying nature (biomimetics), biopsies could become a thing of the past. This emerging field has given rise to new technologies created from biologically-inspired engineering.

We know from the old adage, “Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight...” that red light tells us something is going on. Ditto the rainbow. Spectral imaging allows us to analyse exactly what is happening - sunset on Mars has revealed a great deal about the planet.

Shining a light into the body can reveal a great deal, and show healthy tissue versus benign and malignant abnormalities. Fibre-optic light is energy and will excite the molecules, making them dance to a very specific pattern. The molecular fingerprint can be analysed by computer and results will be almost immediate.

Computer analysis and robotics also bring benefits. Even the best-qualified medical practitioners can be subject to ‘inattentional blindness’, whereby they are concentrating so much on one thing, they miss others. A person can only work to this level of intensity for four hours at a time, whereas computers and robots can keep going 24/7.

In ancient Greece, a physician could tell a lot about the health of his patients by smell. Bad breath, infections, TB, flatulence and even cancer, all give off a bad odour, and recently dogs have been used with considerable success in detecting prostate cancers. And now, machines can detect by smell too. Copying nature.

Bees are great at sniffing, with powerful antenna for detecting pollen in flowers. They can even tell when another bee has beaten them to it. Apparently bees are surprisingly easy to train, and particularly good at detecting explosives. “But,” said Professor Barr regretfully, “you can’t release a lot of bees at the airport, and when they land on someone, declare that he’s the terrorist!”

Today we tend to mask our own body smells, with regular showers and expensive perfumes. But our sense of smell is attracted by pheremones, and it is our natural odour that attracts the opposite sex, as long as it is reasonably fresh and not overpoweringly stale. Bugs will travel as far as two miles to visit a female emitting the right sort of pheremones.

Another example of light affecting nature is leaves in autumn. “Total carnage!” declared Professor Barr. “All that death and destruction!” As the light reduces later in the year, the green chlorophyll in the leaves reduces too, and the glorious reds, yellows and oranges of autumn show they are dying. They return in the spring, and this has inspired the use of light - photodynamics - to remove skin cancers. Yes, it causes scarring, but like the leaves, the skin heals.

It was Aristotle who said, “If one way be better than another, that you may be sure is nature’s way.”

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* Guest speaker