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Region Well-Positioned To Take Advantage Of Growth In Biomimicry


Could biomimicry be the next biotech for San Diego? We talk to local economist Dr. Lynn Reaser about why our region is well-positioned to be a future hub for innovation in the field of biomimicry. We also discuss how the local economy could be impacted by industries that create products and use ideas inspired by nature.

Lynn Reaser will be discussing "The Economic Impact of Biomimicry" this Thursday at 6 p.m. at the San Diego Zoo.

Could biomimicry be the next biotech for San Diego? We talk to local economist Dr. Lynn Reaser about why our region is well-positioned to be a future hub for innovation in the field of biomimicry. We also discuss how the local economy could be impacted by industries that create products and use ideas inspired by nature.


Dr. Lynn Reaser, Chief Economist for Point Loma Nazarene University at the Fermanian Business & Economic Insitute.

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This is a rush transcript created by a contractor for KPBS to improve accessibility for the deaf and hard-of-hearing. Please refer to the media file as the formal record of this interview. Opinions expressed by guests during interviews reflect the guest’s individual views and do not necessarily represent those of KPBS staff, members or its sponsors.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening to these days on KPBS. Biomimicry is a concept we've been exploring here on these days, and we've covered the topic in a couple of different ways. We had on officials with the San Diego zoo who told us the idea of biomimicry, that is, studying animals and nature for ideas to solve human problems, is a perfect opportunity to expand the zoo's reach and influence. We also heard from representatives at Qualcom, who've developed a new cellphone display based on biomimicry research. Now we explore the potential economic window fall for San Diego as biomimicry and adaptations are used by an increasing number of industries. I'd like to introduce my guest, doctor Lynn Reaser is chief economist for Point Loma Nazarene university and the Formanian business and economic institute. She's just completed a study about the economic impact of biomimicry. And Lynn, welcome back to the program.

LYNN REASER: Thank you, Maureen. It's a delight to be back.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, why is San Diego in particular well positioned to take advantage of this future growth in the field of biomimicry?

LYNN REASER: Biomimicry is a very exciting field, as your listeners may know, it's the discipline where we take ideas inspired by nature and apply them in it the commercial industrial world. It's a really potential economic game changer. And we believe that San Diego could see this as the next major economic driver on the heels of biotech and clean tech, and we believe that SD is in a very good position because it was the key components of a overall cluster that would be techonology, with the intellect be second, it would be the capital, the small business entrepreneurship, and also collaberation, so those four key elements we believe position san diego very well in this area.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: So the same kind of synergy that went to work to make San Diego a biotech and biohealth sciences hub might also work to inspire biomimicry industries?

LYNN REASER: Yes, we believe it would be, and we would see the zoo as the core of such a cluster, because the zoo has, really the tremendous resources in terms of plant and animal species, it has, of course, the institute for conservation. And so it has, really, the beginning phases of what could be very exciting. Basically, two approaches to biomimicry in the commercial world and the economic world. First, sometimes, scientists just look at animals, and I mean, you all have cats and dogs at home, spend an hour looking at all the ears and the whiskers and the fur, and you probably could come in an hour with about ten ideas that could be applied in the industrial world of that's one approach, the other approach is that companies are out looking for a solution, that was the case of Mirasol, looking for a battery life that would be longer and they found the inspiration in a butterfly. So it's these two approaches, and we think the zoo is in a very good position to provide a network, globally, to bring together scientists about really Great ideas by really having that observation, that keen eye to look in the natural world for solutions and then companies actually looking for ways to save energy, reduce waste, increase efficiency.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, you referenced the Mirasol display that Qualcom is gonna use on its cellphones of probably the most famous of the biomimicry advances we've seen in the modern world is velcro. It was based on the attraction, the static electricity that a saint Bernard had on its fur. But I'm just wondering, what other kinds of industries are looking towards biomimicry for solutions to their problems?

LYNN REASER: It's becoming very widespread. We actually estimate that about a quarter of our economy could see solutions coming from nature. So we see, for instance, transportation, the bullet strain in Japan is modeled now after a king fisher. We've seen apparel, the club act of the Summer Olympics, Speedo came up with that swim suit that helped Michael Phelps, basically mimicking the shark skin. We see in the imagery field, the emulation of the hummingbird with over all wind turbines that are using it. We see ideas inspired by the over all brine shrimp to basically preserve organisms so we're seeing it in a lot of different medical, transportation, distribution, transportation, manufacturing, energy, we see applications all over the place.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And this biomimicry, the concept of biomimicry being explored by scientists and businesses issue it's kind of dovetailing with the idea of sustainability, which is also very big here at San Diego. How do the two meet?

LYNN REASER: Well, Maureen, this is very important because we believe that biomimicry establishes the bridge between sustainability and economic growth. It allows us both to be green and to grow our economy. In the past, we've always viewed this as being a major clash, the environmentalist versus the economic growth, the business interest, and the view has been we can't be green and sustain our economy and still grow. Biomimicry actually says that, no, you actually can have them both because in nature you can find solutions that are very efficient, they eschew waste, they operate basically in a closed loop system. You emphasize the over all impact of optimization rather than maximization. And businesses find that these solutions from nature help them to be more efficient, they reduce energy costs in many cases, they allow them to produce goods that consumers, businesses want, and often are at lower costs. So it allows us both to be green, sustain resources and still grow our economy.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's sort of the essence of working with nature instead of against nature.

LYNN REASER: Exactly because traditionally we've tried to escape the constraints of nature, we've basically said we were better than nature, we didn't need to leadership from it. And yet in this process, we've ignored millions of years of evolution where nature has been finding solutions right under our noses and we ignore them.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And this has to be my last question to you, but I -- you have been studying the potential economic impact of biomimicry. And I want you to give us an idea of what you see down the road, how important this is going to be to the economic health of San Diego and nationally.

LYNN REASER: We looked at 92 ez numbers and we believe that within 15 years if you look at our over all U.S. economy, gross domestic product, we could be inpacting biomimicry solutions about $300-billon of our overall output. We could reducing the losses due to pollution, due to CO2, contamination by about $50 billion, globally, biomimicry could be affecting about -- and in San Diego we estimate that we could be looking at approximate maybe a cluster of about a this happened people initially involved in biomimicry, and that would represent new jobs, about 2100 new jobs, indicate an addition of about $325 million of our gross regional pruduction so this is it really a very important emerging industry and sector for this region.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, I want to let everyone know that you're gonna be talking a lot more about this. In fact, the topic of your speech will be the economic impact of biomimicry and that's this Thursday night at 6:00 at, appropriately, the San Diego. And for more information on that, you can go to the These Days page at Doctor Lynn Reaser, I want thank you so much.

LYNN REASER: It was a pleasure. Thank you for having me.

MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: If you'd like to comment, please go on-line, Please stay with us for hour two of These Days as it comes up in just a few minutes on KPBS.

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