Future Health Care Will Rely on I.D. 11/30/2009 Nov 30, 2009 — Wooden teeth and ear trumpets are long gone, mechanical prosthetics are becoming better each year, but the future lies in biomaterials – making replacement parts out of living tissue. Intelligent design methods are essential at both ends of the process: research and development. Naturepublished a special feature on biomaterials last week.1 Five articles explored how scientists are heading toward biologically-based prosthetics from various avenues of research: the steering of stem cell fate, biomimetics (imitating biological technologies and strategies), nanoassembly, and co-option of existing biological systems. “Biomaterialsmade today are routinelyinformation richand incorporatebiologically active components derived from nature,” wrote Nathaniel Huebsch and David J. Mooney in their review article, titled, “Inspirationand application in the evolution of biological materials”2(where evolution here means human-guided progress in technology). “In the future,biomaterialswill assume an evengreater role in medicineand willfind use in a wide variety of non-medical applicationsthroughbiologically inspired designand incorporation of dynamic behaviour.” Stem cells continue to be of paramount importance in these efforts. So far it has been difficult to direct stem cells toward desired fates in the body. Somehow, “nature has strategiesto surmount themin vivo,” Lutolf, Gilbert and Blau said in their article.3 “Thus, a major goal is to develop new culture-based approaches, using advanced biomaterials, thatmore closely mimic what the body already does so welland promote differentiation of pluripotent cells or propagation of specialized adult stem cells without loss of ‘stemness’.”4 What do spiders and the Venus flytrap have to teach medical researchers? A lot, according to Fratzl and Barth on their article on “Biomaterial systems for mechanosensing and actuation.”5 “Researchers are now using thesenatural systems as modelsfor artificial mechanosensors and actuators, through studying both natural structures and their interactions with the environment,” they said. “...Nature has always been a source of inspirationfor technical developments, but only in recent years have materials scientists started toconsiderthecomplex hierarchical structureof natural materialsas a modelfor the development of new types of high-performance engineering materials.”
Here we present thesophisticated mechanosensory systemsofspidersandactuation systems in plantsasexamplesthatillustrate the potentialof research combining engineering with biology. We discuss vibration, tactile and airflow sensors inspiders; the snapping system in theVenus flytrap; a hydration-driven motor inwheat awns; and a system for controlled bending intrees. In all these cases, important functional characteristics are based on material properties closely matching biological needs, andimpressive material and structural solutions, sometimes of deceptive simplicity, have been discovered.
One Central American spider, for instance, communicates with the female by using his legs to scratch a bromeliad leaf, producing low-frequency vibrations that can travel for several meters along the plant. The female responds with an even lower frequency vibration that guides him to her. “Thephysical propertiesof both the sender’s signal and the signal-transmitting plant structures arewell matchedto the receiver’svibration sensor,” they noted before discussing in detail the “engineering tricks” in the transmission and receiving apparatus involved. “Their design teaches ushow to combine protection against overload with high sensitivity to small deflections.” From the lengthy discussion on spiders, they went on to discuss “engineering efforts” that have similarly been “inspired” by crickets, fish, mechanosensitive plants and bending trees. Sciencealso presented a biomimetics theme last week.6 Mark D. Hollingsworth talked about how researchers are examining “biocomposites” up close – materials like mollusk shells – for inspiration. “Fromechinoderm spinesto theexoskeletons of coccolithophoresand theprismatic layer structures of mollusk shells,” he wrote, “organisms can generate complex and fantastic architecturesby depositing minerals such as calcite into matrices containingbiomolecules. The biopolymers not onlydirect the orientation, texture, and morphologyof the crystalline network, they are often incorporated within the mineral phase and play integral roles in enhancing mechanical properties.” The authors of a paper he was reviewing see gold in this research: “This worksuggests an approachfor modifying the internal structures of crystals and synthesizing single-crystal composites with large, potentially accessible, internal surface areas,” Liet alwrote.7 “Potential uses for the gel method include the preparation of materials that require both high crystallinity and high surface areas, such as photovoltaic materials.” They had commented earlier that “Calcite, the most abundantbiomineral, hasinterested scientistsbecause ofthe exquisite control biological organisms exertover its macro- and microscopic structure and the correspondingadvanced mechanical propertiesof theseorganic/inorganic composite materials.” See a related article onPhysOrg. The human immune system inspired Hubbell, Thomas and Swartz in their article.8 A new field is emerging called “immunobioengineering” –
The term ‘immunobioengineering’ is used to describe efforts by immunologists and engineers todesign materials, delivery vehicles and molecules both tomanipulateand tobetter understand the immune system. Examples are theengineeringof material surfaces to induce or prevent complement activation, theengineeringof adjuvants to activate the immune system, theengineeringof antigen or adjuvant carriers for subunit vaccine delivery, and theengineeringof microenvironments to determine the interaction kinetics of mature dendritic cells and naive T cells. Theseadvancesnot only will contribute toprophylactic vaccinestrategies for infectious diseases but also are likely to affectimmunotherapeutics, particularly for cancer, and new approaches to prevent or treatallergiesandautoimmunediseases. The field is rapidly evolvingalong with advances in ourunderstandingof immunology and is alsocontributingto ourknowledgeofbasic immunology.
Since that paragraph used both the wordsdesignandevolvingto mean intelligent design, it’s instructive to look at how these papers used the wordevolution. If you do a keyword search onevol*you are more likely to getrevolution(such as indesign revolution) asevolution. Even whenevolutionwas mentioned, it was most often used as a synonym for human progress in design. That is certainly the case in the articles by Huebsch and Mooney and Lutolfet al. Fratzl and Barth usedevolutionin the Darwinian sense a couple of times. They spoke of “evolutionary constraints on structure뻜unction relationshipsin living organisms and the variety ofstructural solutions that emergedfrom these constraints.” That statement seems almost Lamarckian or teleological, however. They also said, “In an animal or a plant,a material evolved to serve a mechanical functionalso needs tofulfil [sic] many other criteria” – a bizarre mixture of engineering and random processes. Surely they were not speaking of natural selection, were they? Well, later they said that further research “may even allowquantitative predictions about the evolutionary roleand relative importance of certain parameters inthe development of particular functions enforced by natural selection.” At best, that puts any progress in future tense. At worst, all these citations of the E-word simply applied a simplistic narrative veneer onto observations of finely-tuned systems, without doing any legwork of explaininghowthey evolved: e.g., “Four hundred million years of evolutionhavebrought aboutspider senses thatimpressthrough theirperfect functional matchwith thespecifics of biological needs.” Later, they said, “In hardwoods, such as poplar, additional actuating mechanismshave evolved.” Such statements do little more than state the beliefs of the authors. Similarly, Hubbellet albriefly portrayed evolution as a fact in passing statements such as, “Because dendritic cellshave evolved to recognizesuch a diverse array” of signaling molecules. That’s the only way evolution was used in these articles – if it was mentioned at all. By contrast, design and engineering terms suffused the whole suite. It was used equally of human design and biological design: e.g., “biologically inspired design” and “the increasingappreciationof thefunctionalityandcomplexityofbiological systemshas caused biomaterials researchers to againconsider nature for design inspiration,” Huebsch and Mooney said. That kind of language reflects the attitude in these papers. In fact, Huebsch and Mooney usedinspiredorbioinspired21 times,design30 times, the stemengineer16 times, andinformation11 times – each instance referring to the information-rich content of biological systems. Lutolfet aluseddesign14 times (speaking of human design mimicking biomaterials); Fratzl and Barth 11 times (and the steminspire8 times); Hubbellet aluseddesign27 times. It might be argued that these were papers about engineering and design at the outset – not research into evolutionary theory. That may be true, but it’s clear the engineers and designers are looking at nature for inspiration; the stemmimiccan be found 24 times in the series. Over and over, the authors expressed awe of the complexity of living systems (complexandcomplexityappeared 34 times). They were looking to natural designs eagerly with a view toward a golden age of medical innovations that could save lives and improve the quality of life for us all. What has Darwin done for you lately?
1. Rosamund Daw and Stefano Tonzani, “Biomaterials,”Nature462, 425 (26 November 2009) | doi:10.1038/462425a. 2. Nathaniel Huebsch and David J. Mooney, “Inspiration and application in the evolution of biological materials,”Nature462, 426-432 (26 November 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08601. 3. Matthias P. Lutolf, Penney M. Gilbert and Helen M. Blau, “Designing materials to direct stem-cell fate,”Nature462, 433-441 (26 November 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08602. 4. The authors spoke of embryonic stem cells (ES), induced pluripotent stem cells (iPS) and adult stem cells (AS) in their article as all having potential in the search for medical applications. ES and iPS both have seemingly unlimited potential to differentiate, but the tendency of ES to produce tumors has restricted their use in humans, the authors said. “Induced pluripotent stem cells overcome the problem of immune tolerance and theethical issuesfaced by the use of embryonic stem cells and adult stem cells in patients, but current methods to reprogram somatic cells and to generate induced pluripotent stem cells are extremely slow and inefficient.” Recent findings, though, are making iPS generation more efficient. As for adult stem cells,PhysOrgreported on new fracture treatments using stem cells from adult bone marrow. 5. Peter Fratzl and Friedrich G. Barth, “Biomaterial systems for mechanosensing and actuation,”Nature462, 442-448 (26 November 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08603. 6. Mark D. Hollingsworth, “Chemistry: Calcite Biocomposites Up Close,”Science, 27 November 2009: Vol. 326. no. 5957, pp. 1194-1195, DOI: 10.1126/science.1183122. 7. Liet al, “Visualizing the 3D Internal Structure of Calcite Single Crystals Grown in Agarose Hydrogels,”Science, 27 November 2009: Vol. 326. no. 5957, pp. 1244-1247, DOI: 10.1126/science.1178583. 8. Jeffrey A. Hubbell, Susan N. Thomas and Melody A. Swartz, “Materials engineering for immunomodulation,”Nature462, 449-460 (26 November 2009) | doi:10.1038/nature08604.
This is a good entry to illustrate a running theme inCreation-Evolution Headlines: Design is where the action is in science, while evolution is a worthless myth that is assumed – never demonstrated (except in micro-evolutionary scales that fail to show increases in functional information). Evolution is like graffiti on the lab wall. It attracts attention but accomplishes nothing. Yes, we know that the authors of theseNaturepapers are most likely all card-carrying members of the Darwin Party. We know thatNatureis an avowed enemy of intelligent design. We know from Vol. 1 No. 1,Naturehas had a mission to make the secular evolutionary world view more palatable and dominant in world science. But we ask you, where are the goods? We have produced nine years of evidence that evolutionary theory is a collection of vacuous beliefs, promissory notes and contradictions – contradictions with the evidence, and contradictory positions between its ardent supporters. WhathasDarwinian science done for you lately? On the other hand, if you want to get well, regrow a damaged tissue or organ, have well-designed biological prosthetics available when injured, and live longer, intelligent design science is your good doctor. These authors, despite their shallow, insincere genuflections to Father Charlie, were all promoting intelligent design in spite of themselves. Darwinism is a tumor in the body of science. It’s going to take a lot of intelligent design mixed with courage to remove it. Then, a healthy design-based science will lead to that golden age. Get with the program and help make it happen.