New Science Not Escaping the Zoo

The biomimicry movement has a local catalyst

The newest solutions to modern engineering and science may already be millions of years in the making.

For the San Diego Zoo, the next step is spreading the word.

Biomimicry, a developing science that turns to nature for inspiration in innovation, was the featured topic Wednesday morning at a Mission Valley conference seminar, an 80-minute presentation that featured a small, adult American alligator named Laveau.

Alligator blood has been researched as a possible cure to numerous diseases, just one example of an industry that, by 2025, could bring a $300 billion increase in the United States gross domestic product, $50 billion decrease in carbon usage, and, specifically in San Diego, add 2,100 new jobs and $325 million to the economy, according to a 2010 Fermanian Business & Economic Institute impact study.

Helen Cheng, conservation finance manager of San Diego Zoo Global, said the zoo speaks with companies across the country, “and everyone feels that it’s the next big thing.”

“The zoo is one of the few organizations right now that’s really trying to understand what is that systematic process for connecting innovation and nature and how do we start bringing that out there,” Cheng said after speaking to about 80 researches and developers at the Bioinspiration, Biomimetics and Bioreplication conference. “It’s very exciting right now because it is such a nascent field, even though the process, informally and organically, has been around for ages.”

Currently, the zoo’s main project is to disperse biomimicry awareness while facilitating the ongoing conversation between researchers and developers.

Everyone should be on the same page, Cheng says, with an emerging physical page being the zoo’s conservation-biomimicry site, which collects the field’s latest advancements.

The zoo is also part of the biomimicry BRIDGE program, a grouping of the City of San Diego, Point Loma Nazarene University, San Diego State University, University of California, San Diego, University of San Diego and CONNECT.

The zoo is exploring partnerships with other universities in the country while reaching out to youth through various K-12 programs.

On Apr. 14 and 15, San Diego Zoo Global will sponsor the 2011 Biomimicry Conference, which will attract research and business leaders from across the world. The zoo and Balboa Park Prado will be the event’s dual hosts.

Cheng said the zoo’s involvement stems from its longstanding mission toward conservation.

“That’s why we’re doing this,” Cheng said. “We want to play an active role in making a difference with more sustainable, innovative design.”

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