Nano-inspiration: Small size, big potential

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There is a lot to be learned from microscopic creatures.

Tom McKeag, teacher of bio-inspired design at University of California, Berkeley, and San Diego Zoo Biomimicry Conference speaker veteran, published an article recently listing his top picks for “The Year in Biomimicry.” And who should appear in the number one spot? Local San Diego startup Biomatrica! This biostability company has innovated technology with huge implications for San Diego and for the world at large.

Biomatrica was inspired by the tiny (microscopic, actually) tardigrade, or water bear. These little critters have the ability to enter into a state of suspended animation known as anhydrobiosis, or life without water. Another, perhaps more familiar, creature with this ability is the brine shrimp, also known as the sea monkey. The sea monkey and the water bear can live in this dehydrated state for upwards of 100 years; simply add some water and they reanimate completely.

Biomatrica recognized this unique ability and was able to replicate this natural principle with synthetic chemistry to create DNA and RNA sample stabilization technology. Normally these samples are stored in freezers that each take up 30 square feet of space and require a constant -80 degrees Celsius to maintain integrity. As you can imagine, this is extremely energy intensive, and you run the risk of freezer malfunction and loss of extremely valuable, sometimes irreplaceable, material. With Biomatrica’s technology, samples are stored at room temperature and can be placed on a laboratory shelf.

Through a pilot study with Stanford University, the savings on the university campus alone would amount to 40 million kilowatt hours of electricity savings, 18,000 metric tons of carbon footprint savings, and $16 million dollars in operating-cost savings over a 10-year period if labs switched to Biomatrica’s sample storage methods. With San Diego being the large biotechnology hub that it is, the implications for this region are immense.

As we move forward into the future, the technology that allows us to explore the microscopic world increases. With Biomatrica’s example for the potential of the nano world to inspire, we are on a promising path.

Dena Emmerson is a biomimicry research assistant at the San Diego Zoo. Read her previous post, Inspired by Zoo Babies. Be sure to visit the Biomimicry section of our Web site for more information about this exciting field of study.