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For scientist Jeff Karp, nature is one big library, filled with volumes of evolution’s best R&D secrets.

“It’s almost like we have this encyclopedia of solutions around us, where new chapters are constantly being written,” said Karp, a professor of medicine at Brigham and Women’s Hospital through Harvard Medical School.


When research problems arise, Karp looks for “bioinspiration,” turning to the natural world for insights.

His lab develops surgical materials, and it draws ideas from critters by scouring Google Images, poring over papers, or by simply stepping outside the lab and taking a trip to the local zoo.

Among these bio-inspired products are staples with barbed tips like porcupine quills, a type of glue based on the sticky secretions of sandcastle worms and snails, and a spiky adhesive tape inspired by a parasite called the spiny-headed worm.


While none of these technologies are currently out in the market, Karp’s team is working on scaling up manufacturing and gaining the necessary approvals.

“Looking to nature for inspiration gets us out of the typical mindset that we succumb to by being in the same environment every day,” Karp said, “and it really just keeps things fun and exciting.”