As usual, these past few weeks (ok, years) my head has been full of swirling thoughts of symbiosis, synthetic biology, photosynthesis, and biomimicry. These topics have also recently been popping up in the news and other places online and I want to share some links and stories.

  • First, I was truly saddened to hear that Lynn Margulis passed away last week. She was an early proponent of endosymbiosis theory, the idea that complex eukaryotic cells are fusions of bacteria and larger cells, with the endosymbiotic bacteria gradually evolving into organelles like the mitochondria and chloroplasts. She brought symbiosis from fringe lichenology research in the 1800's to the center of evolutionary theory today. Her work and her tenaciousness in the face of harsh criticism is inspiring. For more about her life and work, check out Edge: "Gaia Is A Tough Bitch."

  • Symbiosis was first identified in lichens, which are associations between fungi and photosynthetic organisms like algae or cyanobacteria. The fungi are in some ways "farming" the algae, using them as sources of sugar that they wouldn't be able to get from their environment. Through this relationship, lichen can grow on rocks and cement and places otherwise inhospitable to life. This ability to grow in harsh environments and collaborate with photosynthesizers is inspiring artists, designers, scientists, and engineers to "think like lichen:"

  • In non-lichen related but totally amazing news, the Whitesides group at Harvard designed a squishy starfish-inspired robot that can be more versatile at getting around or under obstacles and resistant to injury than a more traditional rigid robot. The video below shows this awesome example of biomimicry in action: